Beds, Herts & Bucks

Bedford independent shops unite to stop town's 'freefall'

Helen Pattison in Bedford Image copyright KJ Photography
Image caption Helen Patterson said: "Bedford's independents business give the town a heartbeat otherwise we'd be just like any other town".

Seventy four independent traders in a town have joined forces to fight back against high street store closures.

The Bedford Fiver Fest has been set up to encourage shoppers to spend £5 in a week on independent businesses.

The town, which has a population of 170,000, has seen Marks & Spencer close in May, with Topshop set to follow.

Helen Patterson, one of five event organisers, said: "It feels like the town centre is in freefall so, as a Bedford resident, I want to stop that."

Image caption Patsy Power, from Boyds of Bedford, said she supported "anything to get people supporting their local shops"
Image caption Alfonso Bravoco (left) said the the family-run Mamma Concetta's Italian restaurant was keen to get involved in the event

Major chains like Debenhams, Boots, Next and WH Smith remain but 57% of firms in the town are independent, compared to 35.9% elsewhere in the UK, the town's business improvement district said.

Miss Patterson, who lives in the town but works in London, started off a Facebook page to battle the closure of the town's Marks & Spencer store.

She has since renamed it as Town Centre Champions - Bedford and given it a focus covering the whole town, gaining 1,500 followers.

"I want the message to businesses to be, if you want to close 200 stores, make sure it's not in my town," she said.

Image caption Frank Fiore, from The Mill Yard Coffee Lounge, said the town had seen "big boys" vanish but the high street was "going back to how it was 40 years ago"

Each Bedford adult spending £5 a week at an independent business would bring £3.5m a year to the local economy a year, she said.

What went wrong on the High Street in 2018?

She said the response 74 businesses coming forward to put on £5 offers had been "massive".

Image caption Arlene Rust, from ArloArts, is offering a £5 origami workshop in her paper florists as part of the week of offers

Chris Sands, who created the Totally Locally Fiver Fest in 2010 in the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire, said Bedford was "easily the biggest" of the 40 towns taking part in the first ever national week, running until 15 June.

"High streets will only survive if people get together, work together and promote each other," he said.

Image caption Rachael Rogan, from Rogan's Book and a Fiver Fest volunteer, said the events shows the strength of independent firms in "being flexible" making things happen "quickly"
Image caption Most of the occupants from St Cuthberts shopping arcade, which is made up of independent traders, are taking part

Christina Rowe, of the Bedford Business Improvement District, said independents brought a "unique attraction" and gave the town a reputation as a "vibrant destination".

High streets in the UK

  • Between 2012 and 2017, the number of high street retail jobs fell everywhere except London
  • The number of businesses on the high street increased by 15% between 2012 and 2017, compared with a 22% increase in non-high street areas
  • The number of retail businesses on the high street fell while those not based on the high street grew between 2012 and 2017
  • In the same period, employment on high streets in the accommodation and food sector increased by more than 20%

Source: Office for National Statistics

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