Learning to love your High Street again: Guest Blog from Sally Themans, Love Bridgnorth

It’s true our High Streets are changing – and they are facing all sorts of challenges; a weak pound, an outdated Landlord and Tenant Act and absent landlords, unfair rates system, the ease and convenience of online shopping … And, this year to add to the woes I detect a bit of mood swing away from material things as people talk about giving ‘experiences’ and recycling a bit more.

But are High Streets in as much trouble as the poor narrative in the press would have us believe? 

IF – and it’s a big IF – we can adapt and change the focus of the High Street and town centre then these are places that can be re-energised and, in some places, re-purposed and we can begin to feel better about them. Research shows that people still crave that personal service and £8 out of every £10 is still spent on the High Street. 

In Bridgnorth, I’ve been looking out for the economic health and sustainability of the High Street since launching the ‘Love Bridgnorth’ platforms some three years ago and we managed to chalk up a win in the Large Market Town section in The Great British High Street competition. Prior to that I was part of a team delivering retail training as part of Telford’s ‘Pride in Your High Street’ project and worked myself in hospitality retailing since Lancaster University, where as part of a business studies degree, I specialised in - yes you guessed it - retailing.  One of the first things to think about when you think of a High Street or Town Centre is the ‘spirit’ of a place – what makes it unique. Or to use a posh Latin phrase – its ‘Genius Loci’. It’s these three factors:

History: Why it’s there – the foundations of the town
Physical: Location – points of interest etc.
Emotional: How people feel about it ….that gives each town its unique DNA and its distinctive atmosphere.

So, when working with any town which is looking at ‘what makes it unique’ – these are the things to pin down.

In Bridgnorth’s case, it has a rich and compelling history – spanning back to the arrival of Vikings and the role it played in the Industrial Revolution and as one of the key river ports in England. Physically it’s distinctive with the High Town/Low Town geology and the pretty riverside setting. And how people feel about it? – Well, the quick growth of the ‘Love Bridgnorth’ brand possibly says it all – people are really fond of our town – frustrated at times – but overall genuinely emotionally connected to it. 

So – capitalise on your town’s history work and work as  a community to ensure you and your council work to keep the town centre attractive (flowers/litter/signage/spick and span public toilets).  Encourage your wonderful independent traders to play their part, as they do in Bridgnorth, with their heroically brilliant window displays. And the final part of the jigsaw can start to be put in place.  Build a brand around your town, talk it up.  ‘Love Bridgnorth’ stays on brand and promotes a positive vibe about Bridgnorth at all and every opportunity.

Love Bridgnorth is helping to enable retailers to meet together, share ideas and work on joint projects such as the town wide poppy display, late night shopping evenings in the run up to Christmas – one with a brass band and one with an outdoor cinema. They are also promoting the hashtags #BridgnorthChristmas #LoveBridgnorth and #shoplocal 

So – let’s make the beautiful market towns of Shropshire ‘go-to’ destinations – thriving, lively and loved.