What can be done to help high street businesses in Sheffield?
With each week seemingly bringing news of another major retailer facing closure, these are challenging times for high streets across the country.
We asked those in the know what can be done to support high street businesses in Sheffield weather the storm during 2019, and here’s what they had to say.
CLAIRE READING, Federation of Small Businesses development manager for South Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and The Humber
The traditional high street is changing. Small retailers are facing a perfect storm of spiralling business rates and ever-increasing rents, coupled with soaring employment costs and pressure from online retailers and out of town shopping centres.
On top of this, high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of banking services have all added to the woes of small firms in Sheffield, including the closure of some of our Natwest and RBS branches across South Yorkshire as a whole.
Although reform of the outdated business rates system is needed, the rates discount announced in the budget should give some relief to shops, pubs and cafés on the high street.
With local authorities due to distribute the much-needed relief, it’s vital that Sheffield Council is prompt to take action, applying the discount immediately to bills from April.
As well as increasing free town centre parking and safeguarding access to banking, creative and innovative local initiatives are key to attracting people back to the high street.
The new Future High Streets Fund gives an opportunity for councils to think carefully about ways to really improve their town centres, and they should make sure they talk to their local small businesses to help create vibrant hubs at the centre of their communities. It’s evident that in some areas, creative and innovative local initiatives are already having a positive impact.
In Hull recently, shops were taken over with mini theatre productions telling bedtime stories to bring people in, and in Doncaster the town centre has adopted an artisan approach to help increase trade.
For Sheffield, the answer has to be a combination of addressing the issues and developing even more creative solutions to increase footfall.
Small business owners are resilient and are always having to adapt. But we want to see the Government and local authorities come together to look at real solutions to these issues so that our high streets are not only able to survive but to thrive.
COUNCILLOR MAZHER IQBAL, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for business and investment
Wherever you look, you can see the signs that retail is changing. People’s shopping patterns are changing and the everyday use of the internet is changing the way we interact and shop.
The retail industry itself is changing and dealing with issues that it has experienced previously, whether that is over expansion, debts or changing customer behaviour.
But there is still a lot to celebrate here in Sheffield – and great optimism about how we are placed to respond to the changing face of retail.
Sheffield has the benefit of Meadowhall as a super-regional shopping destination. The Moor is doing well and evolving providing entertainment to add to its long history of retail.
We believe that the overall experience will as much define the future of city centres as retail. More so, what Heart of the City II is doing is bringing people back into the city centre first and foremost through new workplaces and residential offers. Our first deals as part of the scheme have been office and residential – not retail.
Heart Of The City II creates the conditions for a healthy city heart with a mix of uses that all complement each other and link to the great public realm and cultural offer we have here in Sheffield, one which we believe is truly unique.
It provides a fresh opportunity for Sheffield city centre, which from a retailing perspective, will be an alternative but complementary offer to Meadowhall. Sheffield has the opportunity to make both of these retail centres works really well.
The delivery of both the Moor and Heart Of The City II on a phased basis also allows time to work with an evolving market and get it right, which can be seen from the fruits being realised on The Moor.
Meanwhile on Fargate, and the High Street, the council is looking at policy changes that should allow alternative uses that keep them vibrant and sustainable.
City centre development for us is now not just about retail but about all the other key and primary uses that cause people to use the city centre – and that is what we are delivering.
LINDSEY NICHOLLS, owner of Annie's sewing store on Abbeydale Road
I remember the shopping experience I had as a young woman, when I would head to the shops with my mum.
We were spoilt for choice. We popped into the local cafe, met Nan for a cuppa, had a look in the little second hand shop, and picked up a new broom from the hardware shop.
It was a social experience. You may have gone shopping with your best friend to buy a record, make-up, or that new top.
This taught you how to budget, check your change, and even cross a road.
But why don't we do that now? We have got so reliant on the internet. The internet does have its uses and we can't put the genie back in the bottle.
The high street needs us and we need it.There may be measures the government can take to make a level playing field for everyone, but we must do our bit too.
I have a young girl whose father brings her in. She has her £10 budget, works out in her head what she's making, who it's for, how much it costs and if she has enough to get another zip. She interacts with me at the till and we enjoy each other's company.
Another girl pops in on her way home from school to pick up a few things. She always knows what she wants, looks at what's new, tells me what she's making, and off she goes home.
Annies and other local businesses help develop social skills, provide local jobs, and help the local economy.
We are a friendly face for someone who otherwise may not talk to anyone from one day to the next. I personally think there's change happening. People like to be served, and local shops are happy to do so.
DIANE JARVIS, Sheffield BID (business improvement district) manager
Sheffield needs a strong mix of businesses, both large and small.
Choice and diversity are key, and whilst it’s often larger, ‘big name’ retailers that draw shoppers, a mix of high street brands and good local independents is essential for a healthy high street.
The Government’s £675 million fund for general high street transformation provides an opportunity for Sheffield to bid for money to make infrastructure improvements and potential alteration of planning rules to help develop a broader mix of retail and hospitality in areas such as Fargate.
Investment in the Moor and the new Heart of the City II is helping to differentiate the retail and leisure offer.
In 2015 businesses took matters into their own hands by forming the business improvement district (BID). As a business-led, business-funded body, Sheffield BID is a much-needed lifeline for the city centre.
Through the BID, businesses are working together on activities to promote a strong, clear message that raises the profile of the city centre, enhances the visitor experience and improves standards through additional cleaning and security initiatives.
We manage an early-morning clean up, remove unsightly graffiti, fund a dedicated police resource and operate a team of city hosts to provide visitor wayfinding and reassurance.
As well as sponsoring major festivals, initiatives include the mobility-scheme Mobile Sheffield, the Sheffield Gift Card, Alive After Five, Restaurant Week (Dine Sheffield) and Fashion Week (Style Sheffield), plus visitor trails such as the LEGO-inspired Bricktropolis and Brearley Bear’s Lost Christmas List.
New festive lights and interactive experiences like Santa’s Post Office help to animate the city centre and a series of visitor guides emphasise the independent offer.
In the face of relentless online competition and store closures, the High Street needs initiatives like these more than ever to attract visitors and shoppers, as well as creating a vibrant economy for those who live, work and invest in the city centre.