Can we mend our local high streets?

Guest Blog by Deborah Marshall of Glowsphere Marketing

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a little girl and her name was Emily. Emily had a shop. It was rather an unusual shop because it didn’t sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost and Emily had found.

I’m sure you’ll recognise the story. Famous even today and fondly remembered by the children of the 1980’s, Bagpuss was a heart-warming children’s tale that was beautifully crafted and narrated. With each episode Emily would bring something she had found to shop and the characters would come alive and mend the item, which was usually damaged. The message was one of philanthropy and community spirit; things that seemed broken could be made good when other people worked together to fix them. Things that were unloved could be loved once again. The story always had a happy ending.

But what if Emily’s shop existed today? In today’s throw-away society very few things are actually mended. Broken items are discarded, only to be quickly replaced by an alternative of the same short-term quality. Would the tale of Bagpuss be quite so endearing if Emily found things and then sold them on Amazon? If Professor Yaffle, Gabriel the toad and the singing mice worked long hours picking and packing in a huge warehouse just outside Sheffield?

When we put it into that context, we can see how technology has changed our lives so much. When I too was a little girl, my parents owned a shop. It was a busy hardware shop on a small town high street that sold everything from mop buckets to sand and cement. My father knew all his customers by name, what they did for a living and their buying habits; carefully selecting products that he knew people would want. As a 5 year old I loved sitting behind the counter or making towers out of drainpipes and exploring the aisles. Having a family owned business meant my parents could look after me whilst running the shop – making a living was combined with quality family time.

Sadly, the days of the hardware shop weren’t to last. Even at the start of the 1980s companies like B&Q were beginning to expand, building large warehouses that offered greater choice and lower prices. After we left, the shop’s days were numbered. 35 years later, despite going through numerous reincarnations it now sits empty. With fewer customers on the streets no shopkeeper will take it on – there is simply no money to be made.

But it seems, all is not lost. Whilst some shopkeepers feel like they have been left in a time warp, unable to compete with the big supermarkets and online retailers, there is still just enough time to stop the damage. Society has started to realise that the loss of high street shops has had a detrimental impact on local communities; it has created a rise in unemployment, crime and vandalism and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Luckily, there are already some initiatives in place that can help address the problem. The ‘What do you think?’ or #WDYT campaign was developed to connect retailers, businesses, high streets, towns, and places with  shoppers. The campaign also promotes the use of social media by encouraging both shops and customers to use it proactively to post products and reviews.

ShopAppy gives local residents the opportunity to not only browse products online but also place an order which they can collect from the shop or local collection hub at the end of the working day. The scheme also combines a social aspect in that many of the collection points are pubs who can offer drinks promotions to those using ShopAppy, breathing life back into the local social scene as well as local commerce.

Both of the initiatives utilise technology, but to the benefit of many through one route. This brings convenience to the buyer – viewing local shops is now just as easy as going to the website of a large retailer, but with the advantage of more choice and feeling good.  Plus it puts less traffic on our roads, bringing environmental benefits too.

Now with so few reasons why we can’t access local shops, isn’t it time to start changing our shopping habits for the better? As the mice from Bagpuss sang ‘we can mend it’. If we pull together we can make sure that the only things lost are those in the window of Emily’s shop and not the high streets themselves.

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