• Andrew Busby

We've Lost The Reason To Visit Our Town Centres

This article was first published in the Daily Express Monday August 13 2018. It came to mind the other day when I was discussing with someone the impact which this second lockdown is having on our High Streets and individual retail and hospitality businesses.

Over two years on and now with Covid and a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely, it seems more relevant now than ever.

Think of a desert, a wetland or a coral reef; what do they have in common? They are all fragile eco-systems - a community if you will - and can fall prey to unforeseen and undesirable change.

To that list we should add the British High Street.

Pretty much every offering on the High Street is falling prey to online competitors. Whether it be grocery, clothes, electronics, furniture, jewellery - all can be found with ease and convenience online.

And one of the oldest established institutions on the High Street is also disappearing at an alarming rate: our Banks. According to Which? in the period from 2015 to the end of 2018, nearly 2,900 branches will have closed and this is having an enormous impact on our communities.

Just as retail stores need to give us a reason, a purpose to visit them, so does the High Street. As humans we need to be motivated - it is our basic needs and wants that lead to us taking action. And as with all things involving humans, the answer is never straightforward.

Put in its simplest terms, there are two types of motivation - extrinsic and intrinsic. The former means that we do things not for enjoyment but because we need to - such as visiting our local bank - and the latter for the enjoyment of the activity, such as eating out or shopping for a luxury item.

The rapid decline of the banks on our High Streets is removing one of the extrinsic motivating factors for us visiting the High Street, and being the fragile ecosystem that it is, this in turn is having a knock-on effect on local retailers with disastrous consequences.

As a fragile ecosystem is dependent upon its constituent arts in order to thrive, so too traders rely on each other to drive footfall by attracting us to our town centres, whether to buy, or simply browse.

This is why the demise of Woolworths in 2008 and Bhs more recently have had such an impact on the High Street - they drove footfall and their neighbours benefitted.

Without that complex mix, that elegant blend of extrinsic and intrinsic reasons to visit, our town centres are slowly declining. It seems that getting a haircut or grabbing a cup of coffee might be the only activities immune from this relentless trend.

Postscript: as I write this in November 2020, as we know, no-one is now immune. Could any of us have even remotely imagined a scenario where businesses are shutdown and our movement severely restricted?

We created SafePrem™ Solutions and the concept of the SAFER Journey™ in response to what we felt was an untenable situation where businesses of all types are being forced to close and then poorly compensated for their loss of business. And despite the positive news about vaccines, eradicating the Covid-19 coronavirus is likely to be a long way off, if ever.

Please join us in our movement, one which advocates a Covid safe standard, one where Government grants are awarded to businesses who invest in making their premises Covid safe and are therefore allowed to remain open and trading.

Andrew Busby is a Co-Founder of SafePrem™ Solutions Limited.

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