Community leaders have vowed to turn around the fortunes of Telford’s high streets after the town topped a national poll for the fewest number of independent shops.
Telford has just 18.1per cent independent stores, followed by Ellenbrook (Hatfield) at 18.5per cent, Yate (Bristol) at 21.4per cent and Bracknall at 22.8per cent, the report by the Local Data Company and the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) said.
But councillors and community leaders said they have already been working hard to combat this before the latest figures were released.
Telford & Wrekin Council recently announced a major funding programme for an initial batch of 21 projects as part of its £1million Pride in Your High Streets initiative, which is aimed at helping town centres across the borough to flourish again.
Representatives from some of the towns involved attended a briefing session last month to discuss how they could work together to encourage people to get involved.
The event was arranged by local company Good2Great, which is running a variety of programmes to help town centre businesses thrive.
Sally Themans, of Good2Great, said: “Whilst these latest figures are worrying, it is nothing we don’t already know.
“From our knowledge of the area and our own research conducted last summer we saw that a greater diversity of successful smaller local shops would bring more visitors to the towns and help them to flourish.
“We have been busy putting plans in place to combat it since.
“We will be working in seven town centres – Donnington, Hadley, Ironbridge, Wellington, Madeley, Newport and Oakengates – with the goal of achieving a ‘virtuous circle’ where successful and sustainable businesses lie at the heart of each thriving centre and in turn attract more independent retailers.
“Support can be tailored to meet the exact needs of each town and it’s vital that we involve as many businesses to make sure everyone has the opportunity to benefit.”
Across the UK, at the other end of the scale Sparkhill in Birmingham and Portobello Road in London are brimming with independents.
In Sparkhill, Birmingham, around 95per cent of shops are independent while in Portobello Road, known for its quirkiness, the figure is 94.7per cent.
The idea of the Pride in Your High Street Initiative for Telford is to reverse the downward spiral of recent years.
Support on offer will include practical training to help town centre businesses improve their sales and marketing skills with the customer at the centre of everything they do.
A ‘menu’ of support available also includes visual merchandising masterclasses and workshops on how to become a more sustainable business.
It will encourage High Street businesses to become more responsive and engaged with their communities.
Hannah Davison, who opened her successful independent dress agency in Ironbridge in March 2015, said: “Being an independent retailer is hard – but rewarding.
“I can, however, offer great individual and personal service to my customers.
“The Pride in Your High Street Initiative is a welcome boost for retailers.”
Councillors from Oakengates, Hadley, Wellington and Madeley who attended the meeting at the Marches Growth Hub Telford last month said it was an exciting opportunity for retailers.