In the last fifty years we have seen the rise, then fall, then rise again of the vital role independent shops play in our communities. The fall coincided with the increased influence of the ubiquitous High Street chainstore and supermarket. In the last couple of decades our town centre businesses have come under increasing pressure from out of town retail parks and giant shopping centres, and of course the relentless surge of online shopping. So our town and village shops, so long an intrinsic part of our daily life, continue to have to face up to modern retailing threats. The communities in which we live, which our High Streets are central to, need to rise to the challenge too. As residents, having a vibrant, busy and fully-occupied shopping centre in our midst brings huge benefits, in terms of consumer choice and that "hard to pin down" community feel-good factor.
The changing face of the retail sector and the impact it is having on our communities is recognised at government level, and in 2011 retail expert Mary Portas was tasked with carrying out an independent review into the future of our High Streets. Her conclusions and recommendations were delivered to the coalition, the vast majority were accepted, and actions, funding and support were put in place to encourage their implementation,
The Portas Review introduced the concept of the Town Team, to bring together “the belief and engagement of all the local stakeholders to create the sustainable High Streets of the future. The best results will come from maximum collaboration at the local level to create High Streets that people want to use, enjoy and return to. It’s up to local areas to decide what works for them, but a Town Team could include key landlords, large and small shopkeepers, council representatives with specific knowledge of planning and development, the mayor or MP, other local businesses and service providers, and local residents.”
The WOTBA committee consulted its members to gauge enthusiasm for setting up a Westbury Town Team, as a distinct group reporting to the business association, and the willingness to get involved has led to the formation of just such a team. The team members are all local and have volunteered their time to get involved and do their bit to promote the village and get the village we want.
The challenge to our town and village centres
"Internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres are not going to go away – they offer the convenience and choice that customers welcome. So for our high streets to thrive they must offer something new and different. But for this to happen it is local people who must take control, developing the vision for the future of their high streets and putting their energy and enthusiasm into making it a reality"
David Cameron - 2012.