As part of the annual Small Business Saturday event, Damian met several business owners in Alton on Saturday.
The first visit was to Austen's Cafe on Lenton Street, where he met Jonathan McDonald to hear more about the new Anxiety Café they have set up, which is held on every other Monday morning. The drop in session helps people with anxiety issues get out and about, and Austen's will be working with MIND to provide additional assistance in the future.
Then it was on to meet Julian Fisher at JISP on the high street. He is the CEO of a software company which is developing the technology to enable retail outlets to free up their shop floor staff to provide advice and up-sell whilst the customer is in the store rather than being kept behind a till, recognising there is an opportunity to attract visits to outlets with the right service and offers.
And finally, on to Amy's Nails on Market Street where he met Chris Lewin and his team to talk about how he is trying to make his three stores (in Alton, Petersfield and Farnham) as eco-friendly as possible by using renewable energies and sourcing 'low impact' products.
Damian also wrote a piece on high street trading for the Herald newspaper last week:
"We’re all aware of the changing shape of our town centres, with the loss of some long established retail brands from our high streets, struggling to compete with the growth of online shopping. And with e-commerce predicted to account for around 40 per cent of all UK retail sales by 2030, this shift is set to continue.
But it is also true that bricks and mortar retailing will always have a place on the high street, particularly when customer service and experience is at the heart of the offer. Thriving town centres are likely to have a greater mix of leisure, entertainment, education and arts, with residential housing also becoming a key part of regeneration.
And this will be particularly evident in the new town centre development in Whitehill & Bordon, designed around a range of facilities and services to encourage footfall and foster community life.
I was delighted to see Alton short-listed in the recent Great British High Street Awards, and although Crickhowell was selected as the eventual winner, there was clear recognition for the good work underway locally to protect the vibrancy of the town centre.
And this is where local communities are such a significant driving force, with local councils, community groups and hundreds of volunteers hosting events that bring people into the centre of towns and villages. This is undoubtedly true of East Hampshire, with outstanding initiatives happening in Petersfield, Alton, Liss, Liphook, Whitehill & Bordon and many smaller communities as well.
This weekend’s Yuletide Festival in Alton is one such example, coinciding as it does this year with Small Business Saturday. This is a great way to show support for local businesses and I’m looking forward to visiting a few who are finding new ways to meet the challenges of high street trading.
But central government also has an important role to play and announcements made in the recent Budget will bring more than £1.5 billion worth of support for the high street, including the easing of small businesses' rates, and the Future High Streets Fund.
The Government has also announced the launch of the Open Doors project, inviting landlords to take part in a pilot scheme to help match empty properties with community groups looking for space.
So, there is plenty to be optimistic about and I’m sure our high streets will remain the heart of community life for many generations to come.
And we can all play our part when we shop local."
Written by Damian Hinds and published in the Herald on Thursday 29th November 2018