Today we are calling on you to help us spread a little love in our high streets.
Our traditional local shopping centres are changing. Many small retailers face rising business rates and rents, while high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of vital banking services have added to their woes.
At the same time a number of well-known chains and department stores have closed swathes of high street stores, with more than 50,000 retail jobs going or gone from big stores this year alone.
The local retail scene is undergoing significant changes and none of us can ignore the effects.
Small shops are in the thick of this. There are twice as many independent high street businesses as chain stores. They are vital to the health of our town centres. And while there are thousands of small businesses still literally setting up shop - on our high streets and online - across the UK, many others are finding it difficult, some too difficult, to stay in business.
There is no quick fix - and longer term we need to reimagine and repurpose our local shopping areas so they can be less than about just shopping and more a place for leisure and experience and community.
But today we - along with sister newspapers across Johnston Press - launch our Love Your High Street campaign with the aim of focusing more attention on what can be done now to support our small shops and businesses.
And we can all play a part.
Preston Business Improvement District (BID) has come out in support of the campaign, backing the call for local support and for business rates to be frozen.
Mark Whittle, Preston City Centre BID manager, said: “Preston city centre is a far more attractive place to visit and enjoy than it was 10 years ago.
“The high feels a much more vibrant place, there’s more choice and independent and leisure businesses are really adding to the vital mix of the city centre, but they need support and custom to thrive and continue to serve the public.
“Traditional retail is evolving and service based retail is really swelling – all elements are crucial to the success of a destination.
“We don’t have a shortage of parking spaces, but what we need to do is ensure fees remain reasonable and ensure that access in to and out of the city is trouble-free.
“We would urge the Chancellor in his budget to abandon the uprating of business rates for the next two financial years for all retail businesses operating on the high street and the city centre. This would help ease the financial burden on struggling businesses as they go through significant structural changes”.Martin Carlin of Leyland Town Team, also threw his weight behind the campaign.
He said: “I’m all for it, it’s what we need. As a Town Team we’ve long-supported the shop local campaign - you have to use it or lose it.
“A lot of independent retails are unique in their own way and it helps keep the town vibrant and alive.
“Online shopping has it’s benefits, but for general shopping, you can’t beat seeing the item, getting a feel for it and interacting with the shopkeeper.”
He added: “For the past four years we’ve been organising events to draw people in, with the hope that people realise what we have here and come back.
“It’s going well, we’re attracting new businesses in, but we can always do better.”
Everyone enjoys the convenience of using the internet to meet their shopping needs. But, as consumer spend starts rising in the run up to Christmas, we are encouraging all readers to make a conscious decision to also shop locally and spend some time and money with the shops, small businesses and independent traders who ensure our communities remain vibrant places to live.
Between now and the end of the year we will be helping to spread the word by supporting the local initiatives and great independent retailers we have on our patches in a series of regular features.
But more fundamental change is needed - so Love Your High Streets is also about calling for more direct action.
We are backing the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in their calls for both central and local government to lessen the pressure on small firms struggling to keep their heads above water.
Drive home the message to the Treasury and our local MPs that our outdated business rates need urgent reform to lessen the burden on independent traders;
Call for positive action on car parking charges and spaces to encourage people to visit our high streets;
Pressure the Government to review what access high street businesses and shoppers have to cash and digital payments in the face of dwindling bank branches and ATMs
Liverpool Road in Penwortham is an example of a high street where independent shops are in the majority.
From carpet shops to pet supplies, restaurants to dress agencies, the offer is growing, with several new, family-run businesses having opened in recent times.
Emma Rooke, who took over the Cow Shed in Liverpool Road, Penwortham, in May, said she backed the campaign.
She said: “This is definitely what we need. Local, independent shops make the high street more vibrant, they attract more people in for everyone’s benefit and I’m pleased to see a few more places popping up around here recently.”
A spokesman for BonBons Coffee Bar in Liverpool Road, Penwortham, said: “We must shop local. Local people must work hand-in-hand to help others.
“We need to bring more people into Penwortham and keep the footfall high.”
A spokesman for C&M Pet Supplies, said: “We’re all for people shopping locally. We find that people like speaking to us face-to-face. Clients become friends and some even come in for a brew.”
What business owners say
Backing the launch of our Love Your High Street initiative, Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: ‘It’s great to see this campaign adding to the call for action to help our high streets.
“With confidence among small retailers falling, this is a crucial time to ramp up pressure for urgent reform of outdated business rates and simplifying the way bills can be appealed, as well as improving local roads and increasing the amount of free parking. Government and local authorities must come together now to find real solutions to these issues.’
In 2013 the then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles unveiled a ‘billion pound package’ of measures to support our local shops. It was claimed these steps - which included business rates support, town centre tax breaks, relaxation of planning rules and parking reform - would make it easier for all the shops on Britain’s high streets to grow, expand and take people on.
Five years on, life on the high streets are still tough.
Michael Weedon, chairman of the FSB’s Retail and High Street Policy Unit, said: “Small business owners are resilient and are always having to adapt. But we want to see the Government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive but to thrive.”
Mr Weedon added: “We all know the problems. Shops lie empty, increasingly expensive parking in towns drives shoppers to choose retail parks, business rate bills weigh disproportionately heavily on high street retailers while online-only operators have far lower costs – and pay far less in tax. Then there’s time-honoured necessities such as high street banks and convenient ATMs closing down and competition from online shopping.
“If we don’t act then we know that these problems will get worse – and we will all feel the impact.
“There is much that can be done to free the high street from the burdens imposed by tax, parking and planning policy. There is much that can be done to enable our towns to reimagine and repurpose themselves for a future, which is less about shopping and is more and more about leisure and experience and community.
“There is much that can be done to help retailers and their staff develop and apply new skills for a digital future.
"There are problems to solve and it will take central government, councils, businesses – and consumers - to solve them. There is cause for hope.
“Even in these difficult circumstances the small business community is opening tens of thousands of shops every year, on high streets and online. If those burdens can be reduced and opportunities provided, then small businesses can help give our high streets a new and exciting future.”