To state the obvious, political and economic change happens in all kinds of ways including through crisis and calamity. For those of us working for change at local, municipal and regional scales, this is the moment when many of the solutions we’ve been promoting are needed and the conditions for building the foundations for longer term change are favourable. There’s much to explore on this topic, obviously, but let’s just focus on a few points which might inspire immediate action and kick off a continuing conversation in our wider community of changemakers, and especially here in the South West, UK.
Who hasn’t noticed the growing vacancies on the Totnes High Street? Totnes has been more the exception than the rule, resisting the retail malaise that has struck High Streets all over Britain. It has, so far, resisted the encroachment of chain stores, while being held up as an example of a local economy thriving on tourism, community spirit and independent shops. For decades, local traders have opposed pedestrianisation, which is, ironically, a suggestion that many visitors make upon struggling their way up the High Street and The Narrows. A few years ago, a temporary traffic reversal was blamed for a few shops closing which sparked an energetic campaign to reverse the reversal.
But there are larger forces at work behind the current trend of closures. One obvious explanation is that shops are failing because people don’t want to buy what they’re selling. This is undoubtedly true for some, probably most, while a few are closing for strategic reasons of their own. A couple of multinational retail chains are opening new units, a SpecSavers and a Coffee One, a subsidiary of Cafe Nero. Both will put further pressure on locally-owned opticians, as well as local cafes and their local suppliers.