Accrington, Great Yarmouth, Streatham. In ordinary circumstances, they wouldn’t necessarily spring to mind as sought-after UK retail destinations. But 2020 is no ordinary year.
And while Covid-19 wreaked havoc through our high streets, these highly different locations all found themselves landing in the top ten of Property Week’s Hot Retail Index for 2020. Seeking to reflect the huge disruption to the retail landscape this year, the ranking focused this time on identifying the most ‘resilient’ towns and cities across the country – with criteria altered to take account of the size of the residential population, customer mobility during lockdown, spread of independent retailers and reliance on tourists or commuters.
As a resident of Streatham, I wasn’t surprised to see it clinch third place. I’ve seen first-hand how much busier the independent coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants here have been as people work from home and spend more money locally. Like many, by avoiding public transport I’ve discovered some real hidden gems closer to home, and realised that I don’t need to go into central London or a major shopping centre to pick up the essentials or indulge in some retail therapy.
Businesses in more suburban neighbourhoods like Streatham have built new customer bases, but also branched out creatively to offer takeaways, home deliveries, click & collect services and extended opening hours to keep trading safely – some of them achieving this in just a matter of days.
Just as it was our daily walk that kept us all going in March, it is these little, permitted perks – grabbing a breakfast or coffee on the go – that have made this second lockdown more manageable for many.
And now it’s our turn to repay the favour. With the nationwide lockdown lifted this week, and retailers able to physically open their doors to customers once more, this is going to be a decisive Christmas period for many small and local businesses. They’ve battled their way through 2020 so far but will need our support more than ever to survive into the New Year and whatever tier restrictions await us then.
So, in a season usually categorised by Black Friday bunfights and eye-wateringly expensive ad campaigns, let’s not lose the heightened sense of community and localism that has defined our collective response to this pandemic. In the annual race to complete all that Christmas shopping, it can be a slippery slope to complacency and convenience (yes Amazon Prime, I’m looking at you). But a little bit more careful, considered shopping will go a long way this year – and might just shape how your local high street looks in the future.
Emily Barnes is an account director at Camargue