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The future of the high street

Covid-19 has accelerated the evolution of the high street, and small businesses must be at the forefront of that change. As we all look ahead to life beyond the pandemic, we celebrate the businesses that represent the beating heart of our towns and cities.

Last updated: 20 Apr 2021 3 min read

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As the UK embarks on its recovery and businesses adapt to meet the evolving habits and demands of today’s consumers, a series of initiatives are under way to help communities transform their high streets.

From the £1bn Future High Streets Fund, the High Streets Task Force and the £5bn ‘restart’ grant scheme for high street shops and hospitality businesses, to campaigns such as Where You Shop Matters, these packages that rally support aim to help businesses on and around high streets get back on their feet and play their part in the rejuvenation of local areas.

New research from NatWest and Retail Economics highlights the top retail and leisure trends for 2021, including an increased focus on digital first environments. But David Scott, national head of the retail and leisure sector at the bank, says physical stores will continue to play an important role. “I think the experiential aspects of retail and leisure will come out more to the fore, and I think high streets have a purpose to play not only for well-being but across the wider community,” he says.

Mike Elliff, CEO of payment solutions provider Tyl, also observes that the pandemic has resulted in some fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour. “For Tyl, a standout feature of the pandemic has been the remarkable resilience shown by so many of our customers in adapting their business to navigate through such tough conditions,” he says. “Our research throughout this period has highlighted a groundswell of locally conscious shoppers across the country, with many actively searching for ways to support innovative local businesses that are increasingly adopting cards, cashless and online solutions as part of their recovery.

“Small independent businesses are crucial to the national economy and our local lives, so as we emerge from lockdown in the coming months, we hope that shoppers continue to make the conscious choice to, where possible, spend with local independent businesses and support the high street.”

Jeni Mundy, managing director, UK& Ireland, at Visa, agrees that keeping it local is key to the retail sector’s recovery. “The past year has been incredibly challenging for small businesses, but we’ve been inspired by their creativity and resourcefulness to adapt, get online and go the extra mile for their communities during the pandemic,” she says.

“Our research with the Centre for Economics and Business Research last year found that, for every £10 spent locally, £3.80 stays within the local area – simply put, the more we spend with our local businesses, the more we contribute to our communities. So, as stores across the country start to reopen their doors to customers, we’re encouraging everyone to get behind their local, independent businesses – because now, more than ever, where you shop matters.”

Starting with Sheffield and Stirling, we will be speaking to SMEs around the UK to discover how they are getting fit for the future and why they’re so proud of their local area. We will also continue to signpost up-to-date support for businesses based in towns and high streets, from funding and grants to campaigns and initiatives.

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