High Street Wise

There’s much to be said about Britain’s ailing high streets;
Silvana de Soissons, champion of all things local, issues a call to action

Illustration by Fran Labuschagne


Many readers may remember the British high street of old: a lively, vibrant place with a range of useful shops from greengrocers to butchers, tea merchants, hardware sellers and even fishmongers. Many of us used to shop there almost daily, using our local high street as our first port of call for all essentials and many luxuries too.

Nowadays, hardly a day goes by that we don’t read an alarming headline or hear a depressing statistic about the state of Britain’s high streets in the media. It is estimated that by the close of 2018, a staggering 70,000 retail jobs will have been lost as a result of shop closures. In 2017, no less than 16 shops closed every day (a total of 5840). 

The perfect storm of high commercial rents, business rate hikes, wage growth, inflation rise, e-commerce giants, worries about Brexit and falling consumer spending has made the economic reality of owning a bricks-and-mortar shop an impossible dream for many of Britain’s new generation of entrepreneurs. Consumers also cite parking restrictions, traffic congestion and online discounting as major reasons why they have kept away from the high street. 

All across Britain, high streets are suffering: many pubs have abandoned the high street, with 14 closing every day last year; 35 out of 100 of the UK’s top 100 restaurant groups are losing money, and as the Post Office is losing £100 million per annum, it is estimated that 3000 more of its branches will be closing, alongside the 762 high street bank branches that closed in 2017. Without these community pillars, many people think twice before driving into town.

Save our high streets

Yet there is no doubt that our high streets are worth saving – Britain is indeed a nation of skilled and hardworking shopkeepers, they form part of a strong historical and cultural identity that attracts tourists and visitors from all over the world. 

The high street is an important place for communities to gather, relax, eat, drink and purchase the unusual and the locally sourced. Humans are hard-wired to seek out relationships, it forms part of our DNA. Shopkeepers can pass on knowledge, experience and advice that faceless corporations like Amazon, eBay and Ocado cannot. 

Shop smart, shop local

Bath, Frome and Bruton boast an abundance of interesting quirky, individual, independently owned high street shops and cafés, as well as independent markets, and they wholeheartedly merit supporting. The turnaround in the fortunes of small shops very much remains in the consumers’ hands – it is up to each and every one of us to help save the British high street. 

Every week I spend my disposable income in small shops and markets – I carry two shopping baskets and I buy only what I need – it helps me save money, reduce waste, look after the environment and support my local community. It’s a simple and frugal example to follow – vote with your feet, your wallet and your heart. 

My favourite independents

1 Society Café 
Not one, but two sites in Bath, serving the best coffees and cakes in a chic and friendly ambiance. 

Young owners Nik and Olivia source the very best fashion, stationery, homewares and toiletries – the must-visit Bath shop.

3 Alchemy
A favourite shop for workwear and accessories – excellent sourcing, display and merchandising skills in trendy Catherine Hill, Frome.

4 Bistro Lotte
Tucked away at the top of Catherine Hill, a delightful and buzzing bistro serving excellent seasonal food, very good value for money and expertly run.

Owner Natalie Jones has an exquisite eye for design and form – this is a must-
visit lifestyle store, micro-hotel, event space and workshop hub.

The high street is an important place for communities to gather, relax, eat, drink and purchase the unusual and the locally sourced