Land in a new town and you’d be hard-pressed to tell where you are, according to a new report. Does your town have its own personality – or do the same old shops leave it in danger of becoming a clone?
We’ve all got personal examples of how the big chains have muscled their way in to our local high street. The quaint cricket ground in my home town has recently been wiped out by Waitrose, for example.
While individual accounts like this aren’t likely to change the whole shape of a town, it does edge them closer to becoming a faceless, unrecognisable place that could be anywhere.
‘Clone Town Britain’
A new report by think tank nef suggests that we’re actually heading for ‘Clone Town Britain’. It says that 41% of the towns it surveyed are clones, with a further 23% on the verge.
Depressing? Yes. Over-exaggerated? I don’t think so.
Think about it. How many times have you rocked up to a new town just to be greeted by familiar faces on the high street? It’s pretty hard to escape the likes of Starbucks, McDonald’s and supermarket chains anywhere you go, and bigger towns are nearly always home to M&S, Monsoon, Oasis et al.
Sure, there’s value to big brand names moving in. Get the balance right and they can help the smaller shops by attracting new shoppers. But get it wrong and your town loses its personality and fails to offer shoppers anything new or surprising.
Towns doing it for themselves
Thankfully, there are some towns that are maintaining their individuality, according to Paul Squires, co-author of the report:
“It’s not all doom and gloom. We found many towns that are thriving with initiatives to retain local diversity. The local currency schemes in Lewes and Brixton, for example, or community buy-outs of post offices and pubs from Yorkshire to Cornwall.”
And I can add my own to that list. I’ve just returned from a trip to St David’s, Britain’s smallest (and probably loveliest) city, in Wales, where I noticed a branch of Fat Face. But, far from making me reel in horror, I thought it a good addition to the place. It’s one of the only chains the city offers, and as an ‘outdoor brand’, it works there.
So are you worried about your local high street – and can anything be done to protect it from becoming a clone? The report suggests we ‘use them or lose’ them when it comes to independent stores, cinemas and markets. It also suggests you grow more of your own food and use FreeCycle to distribute your unwanted goods.
You could even get involved in running a local currency, like Lewes and Totnes… or is that a step too far?