Throughout lockdown, the government has provided support to businesses of all sizes to keep them going, as many closed or could not operate at their previous capacity, but as this eases shoppers are once again able to show their support for their local high streets, and we should champion this. I was pleased to be invited this week to visit independent business owner Justina Pettifer at her shop, The Healthy Life Co Ltd in Little Brittox, along with Ida McConnell, who created a free directory of the area’s independent shops and businesses during lockdown to help sign post the public to those that were still operating. They are part of The Devizes Retailers & Independents group, which is currently running a campaign to promote the message that the town is open for business.
The group recognised that, while lockdown has been a challenge, the return to normal life presents an opportunity for the town’s businesses to come together to promote and support each other. You may have seen their posters around the market place and the routes into town. The idea is to encourage more people to shop local and make the most of the town’s independent offering, as well as providing retailers with helpful information. In time this might also include dedicated events and markets, to further boost small businesses.
Justina told me she and her staff had been forced to adapt quickly to a new way of life, primarily online ordering – a story that will be true for many business owners, large or small - but that there is an overall feeling of positivity for the future. Our habits changed during lockdown, of course – this was completely necessary, but shopping is no longer restricted to essentials, and we can return to browsing our independent shops and making the most of them. Devizes has its own identity – not a high street full of only chains, but many independent shops, cafes and restaurants and this should be celebrated. I’m confident that the future is bright – if plans for the new train station go ahead successfully the town will have more opportunities to flourish as a destination (which it should be) at the heart of Wiltshire to attract visitors from nearby and further afield. We must preserve and protect our independent businesses now so they can enjoy the good times when they come.