At the 2013 WI National AGM, it was voted by an overwhelming majority that:
“The NFWI (National Federation of Women’s Institutes) notes with concern the continuing decline of our high streets and the damaging effectthis has on their local communities. We call every member of the WI to support their local shops and make the high street their destination of choice for goods and services. We call on decision-makers to work collectively, at all levels, to help bring an end to the decline of our high streets and to ensure that high streets flourish and provide a focal point for local communities.”
This isn’t anything that wasn’t already apparent. Nationally, around 11% of high street shops are vacant. Although it appears that this is falling slightly, the shops and businesses that we’re losing are the independent ones. We’re sacrificing locally owned businesses for multi-national chains. As a result, our retail environment is far less interesting and the service we get is far less personal. As footfall from shops declines we lose other things alongside them: community spaces, GPs surgeries, libraries and banks all lose customers and eventually disappear. The local economy also suffers, especially since large chains are far less likely to use local suppliers.
There are lots of ways in which we can all take action to give our local businesses the ability not just to survive, but to thrive. Most simply, of course, we can all make a personal commitment to use local businesses whenever we can. We can also encourage decision makers, locally and nationally to provide parking and public transport which enables people to use small businesses, rather than going to out of town superstores. The WI Public Affairs team has created example letters and are encouraging us to contact our MPs and councillors.
Sotonettes WI meet on the high street, so this is a campaign very close to our heart. In the city small and locally owned businesses are often less obvious, but Southampton is full of them. They may be a little harder to find, and they’re probably not in the city centre, but they’re there, and they’re well worth seeking out.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the issues and how to tackle them, both The Observer and The Telegraph newspapers have recently published articles about this campaign:
The WI have dedicated part of their website to this campaign with additional information. Click here (opens in a new window) You can download the WI action pack from their site and also take the High Street survey – to reach the survey directly, click here (opens in a new window).
Do you use twitter? If so, the WI have two hashtags for this campaign – #soshighstreets and #womensinstitute. You can tweet about what you’re doing to help or improve our high streets, or champion a shop you couldn’t live without!