Champions Round Table – High Street
Despite online retail being the undisputed winner of the pandemic, a survey earlier this year by High Street bank Barclays found that up to 17,000 new stores could open on local high streets as new hybrid work crowd look to shop nearer home.
Chesterfield’s Shop Local message has been strong during the pandemic. As well as being keen to support local businesses, there has been an increased appreciation of the experience of visiting the high street. Building on this, Chesterfield Borough Council is now looking to build back better to meet the challenges of a reshaped and revitalised retail landscape.
And it’s already paying off, a number of new businesses have opened in the town centre since the start of the pandemic, including Cawa, Barkworthy Dog Emporium, Bee Orchid, Chesterfield Escape rooms and most recently, Kooca.
As part of its commitment ensure the town centre continues to offer a vibrant and modern shopping experience, the council has drawn up ambitious plans to revitalise the market, to create an open-air shopping experience with new event space, seating, and landscaping. The Revitalising the Heart of Chesterfield Vision Master Plan underwent public consultation from 2 August to 12 September 2021.
Focusing on the high street, this month’s round table, organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, brought together key figures from the town’s business community to discuss the changing face of the high street and what the future could look like for it.
JM – Josh Marsh – Destination Chesterfield Coordinator (Chair)
LS – Laura Stevens – Head of Retail Operations, Ashgate Hospicecare
DK – Diane Knowles – Executive Assistant, 360 Wellbeing
JR – Jackie Roberts – Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP) manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire)
AM – Andrew McDaid – Partner, Mitchells Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
KS – Cllr Kate Sarvent – Cabinet member for town centre and visitor economy, Chesterfield Borough Council
SD – Simon Davidson – Owner, RP Davidson Cheese Factor
NH – Nick Hogan – Owner, Chesterfield Escape Rooms
CF – Carley Foster – Professor of Services Marketing, Head of the Centre for Business Improvement, University of Derby
MW-K – Martin Wallis-Keyworth, Less Than Zero Barbers
Do you think that lockdown has made people appreciate the high street more as a community hub and, if so, how do we capitalise on that momentum?
KS – We are a resilient community and lockdown made us appreciate each other more and hopefully we can continue working together to promote the high street and local businesses. We launched the Love Chesterfield campaign during lockdown, encouraging people to shop local, and hopefully people are taking this message on board.
SD – I think people have appreciated the high street more. During lockdown, we managed to stay open and our customer numbers actually went up. The high street did get a bit of a buzz and people were turning to smaller independents in an effort to get hold of products more easily and avoid the queues at supermarkets.
AM – At the start of lockdown, I know our shopping habits changed. We don’t normally go to the local butchers and grocers, but that’s exactly what we did. Like a lot of people I don’t do that as much now as I did 18 months ago. The challenge for town centres now is what does the high street become. I think it has a lot to do with social interaction rather than financial transactions.
CF – From the research we’ve done, the high street has got to offer more than just retail. Retail is still part of it but the only way we are going to attract people is through offering a wider experience.
LS – As an organisation which has charity shops in a number of different high streets across North Derbyshire, the footfall in our shops has been astonishing after each lockdown. We get customers coming in that don’t see anyone else during their week and they come in for a conversation. We also have volunteers and staff members who don’t interact with anyone else and being able to open our shops and coffee shops again has been huge for those people.
DK – We opened the clinic in January last year and just two months later we closed for lockdown. In April this year we were allowed to open all facilities and we’ve seen a lot of people coming in for the social interaction. When people have a massage or reflexology treatment, they start to open up and talk. It’s become a bit of a hub where people can even just come in for a cup of tea and a chat or use the space for meetings. We feel like we’re making a difference from a wellbeing perspective.
NH – It was really tough opening up through the pandemic but we had to try and get things off the ground but we had in excess 2,500 players in the first three months of opening and probably about 85% of those were local players. I’ve never worked in Chesterfield town centre before and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the footfall.
MW-K – I think there needs to be a concerted effort to think about how we put energy back into the town. When people mention Meadowhall, whilst it has its benefits, it lacks energy – that’s where the town can compete.
DK – I am Chesterfield born and bred and I remember the marketplace being one of the most buzzing in the UK. I do think the marketplace will form part of the future retail experience. It then pushes people into the retail stores. The more energy there is, the more people start talking about what Chesterfield has to offer.
LS – For Ashgate Hospicecare, a thriving high street is a massive thing as our shops provide around 27 – 29% of the funds need for the hospice each year.
What does the immediate future of Chesterfield town centre look like?
MW-K – We had a lot of events in the pipeline that couldn’t happen because of Covid, hopefully we can start to see these happening more in the town centre again.
CF – Customers really value a unique experience and it’s not just about the product, it’s about all the other things that come with that. I think that’s where the independents here in Chesterfield can compete with the larger businesses.
KS – We had more than 500 responses to the consultation showing that people are interested in the market. However, traditional markets are changing and we’ve got to move with the times. The footfall in the town centre has got to spread from the marketplace into the rest of the town centre.
JR – I’ve got a young family and elderly parents and finding something for us all to do in the town centre is quite difficult. Family entertainment would draw people to the town centre rather than Meadowhall of Centertainment in Sheffield.
NH – One group we tend not to consider are teenagers. We’ve recently taken over the Lilypad Café building and Amblers Estate Agents and are turning it intoa virtual reality gaming centre. Geeks HQ is on board and together we’re creating a Chesterfield gaming zone.
NH – With costs for rent and business rates, I think we are going to see a lot of empty stores.
LS – We’ve got a shop just off the back of Falcon Yard in Chesterfield and have looked at moving premises not too far from where we are now but the difference in costs would have sucked any additional income we’d make right out of it.
CF – There’s a real appetite to think about space differently but the landlords are the real sticking point. They have a financial interest in keeping the rents high but are then faced with problem that nobody is filling the space – we’ve got to encourage them to think differently.
Can online retail and the high street co-exist and, if so, how?
CF – I think they both do different things. Online retail is more about price, convenience and availability whilst the high street has the advantage of offering a unique experience. It’s a complicated picture and I think different models will work for different businesses.
JR – The Chamber is delivering the Digital High Street initiative for Chesterfield Borough Council to help support those businesses that didn’t have an online presence in the pandemic. I think online retail is a great supporting element for existing high street businesses.
MK-W – I don’t agree that a digital presence for every business is the answer. I think customer service and experience is what really sets us apart and we need to really focus on that. It’s largely down to the narrative.
DK – We cannot offer our services online, however we are selling our products on Amazon and doing very well. That came from us having conversation with customers in the clinic.
With places like John Lewis closing branches and offering a ‘less is more’ high street approach, is there an opportunity for national retailers to come to Chesterfield?
LS – I would question whether we actually want those larger names on our high street.
CF –I think it depends on what fits with the profile of the town and if those stores actually do work on our high streets – that’s the conversation we need to have.
KS – Years ago, you could go to town centres across the country and they would all be offering the same thing. Now, people want something differentiation and want to visit independent businesses. Unless they are a real draw to bring other shops in, sometimes it’s not worth having the national businesses in the town centre.
MW-K – I think the closing of stores like John Lewis is creating an opportunity for smaller retailers to provide these products locally. If we don’t take advantage of that, those products are going to move online.
Do you think more town centre living will have a positive impact on businesses?
AM – More town centre living can only increase footfall. I live in Sheffield and I see the tower blocks being built for university students. Without the student population Sheffield would be dead. Housing is an integral part of any town or city centre.
SD – Ever since I was going to meetings with the council with my dad years ago, we’ve been talking about town centre living but recently there has been a real upturn and things are happening with speed now. It’ll encourage more footfall and that will encourage more businesses. Accommodation in the town centre is a great thing.
KS – We’re just in the middle of developing our tourism strategy to take us through to 2027 and the one thing we’re short of is hotel space. We want more overnight stays in the town.
DK – I live in the Peak District and tourism has quadrupled during the pandemic. There are more tourists and they’re looking for some where to stay and things to do in and around Chesterfield.
MW-K – I think it’s important to look at everything holistically, almost like a journey for the people coming into town. We want to keep people in the town for a significantly longer amount of time.
Chesterfield Digital High Street
For independent business owners looking to use digital to attract new customers in person and online, help is at hand from Chesterfield Digital High Street. The project is funded by Chesterfield Borough Council, and delivered in partnership with East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire). Find out more and apply at https://www.emc-dnl.co.uk/chesterfield-digital-high-street/
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit http://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/