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After months of lockdown, local shops have begun the slow process of reopening – and in some cases rebuilding – their businesses. The week of the 10th-16th August has been dubbed Shop Local Week in an effort to get consumers to support the small businesses in their cities and towns.
The initiative, which is part of the Government’s Enjoy Summer Safely campaign, urges shoppers to make an effort to revive the businesses “at the heart of every community and every corner of the UK,” according to Business Secretary Alok Sharma. “Business owners have done an incredible job so far to welcome shoppers back safely, and I hope people across the country will do their bit this week to help our high streets bounce back to protect jobs and support local communities.”
It is hoped that the scheme will pump money into local economies to help businesses and secure jobs. The British Retail Consortium welcomed “all initiatives which support local businesses during these challenging times”. A spokesperson told Speciality Food that shoppers should feel confident about returning to the high street due to the “considerable investments” retailers have made in protective measures. “We urge the public to get out and support local shops – in doing so, they are helping to protect jobs and boost their local economy.”
According to Michelle Ovens, director of Small Business Saturday UK and founder of Small Business Britain, independent shops will be at the centre of the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic – but they need the support of their local communities.
“Small businesses are facing a really tough time, but they are also at the forefront of responding to this challenge and evolving these much-loved centres into places that enrich communities and add value to people’s lives. Now is the time to show your local area some love,” Michelle says.
Shops can use this time to highlight what makes them special and unique. Karen Dear, director of operations at the CBA (Craft Bakers Association), explains: “Customers are increasingly looking for handmade, artisan products, made using locally grown or sourced ingredients and this is the high street baker’s specialty. Local bakery businesses are also able to offer customers a friendly face and personal recommendations, all of which can provide a sense of normality in uncertain times.”
With the Eat Out to Help Out scheme running until the 31st August, shoppers can also look to save money while supporting participating independent farm shops and cafés. “Shopping locally is good for the high street, and that will be good for local hospitality businesses. It will be even better if people combine their shopping with a drink or a meal so as to give some much-needed business to hospitality in their area,” adds Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UKHospitality.
Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, says the past few months have been “among the most difficult that businesses have ever had”. Those who are shielding can also get involved by supporting local shops online. “Even those businesses who haven’t been able to reopen their stores, or members of the public who are continuing to shield, then shopping online is a great way to still do your part.”
Local schemes target community recovery
While the Government’s week-long scheme has raised awareness for the need to support local businesses, some communities have set up their own initiatives to boost business.
For instance, the Scotland Loves Local campaign, which was coordinated by Scotland’s Towns Partnership with the support of the Scottish Government, encouraged consumers to make the most of local fine food retailers before travelling to shop or turning to online options.
Elsewhere, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has awarded funding to a campaign called Buy Local South East, which aims to support the local food and drink sector across Essex, Kent and Sussex.
Floortje Hoette, chief executive of Produced in Kent, the organisation managing the Buy Local South East Campaign, said raising the profile and necessity of shopping locally is “imperative to the onward success of our rural communities, and of our whole economy”.
Lockdown forced many consumers to buy local, Floortje said, causing them to reconnect with local food and their local community, as well as question previous buying habits, but sustaining this momentum will be key. “Over the past few months, we’ve seen an enormous increase in local shopping but now we have to sustain this change. For this to happen, it’s got to matter, it’s got to be personal and relevant to each and every shopper.”
Buy Local South East is being managed by the team at Produced in Kent along with Natural Partnerships CIC in Sussex and the Rural Community Council in Essex. A regional online map and separate county maps show the SELEP region’s food and drink businesses, creating a one-stop-shop for consumers to find locally grown produce in their area.
Businesses that list on the site will receive free support with marketing, virtual launches, social media and press exposure, as well as new access to training, coaching and even one-on-one support to aid their recovery. “We’d love to see Buy Local South East going nationally,” Floortje said. “Shopping Locally is the future. It has to be.”
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