Bedford independent shops unite to stop town's 'freefall'
Seventy four independent traders in a town have joined forces to fight back against high street store closures.
The Bedford Fiver Fest has been set up to encourage shoppers to spend £5 in a week on independent businesses.
Helen Patterson, one of five event organisers, said: "It feels like the town centre is in freefall so, as a Bedford resident, I want to stop that."
Major chains like Debenhams, Boots, Next and WH Smith remain but 57% of firms in the town are independent, compared to 35.9% elsewhere in the UK, the town's business improvement district said.
Miss Patterson, who lives in the town but works in London, started off a Facebook page to battle the closure of the town's Marks & Spencer store.
She has since renamed it as Town Centre Champions - Bedford and given it a focus covering the whole town, gaining 1,500 followers.
"I want the message to businesses to be, if you want to close 200 stores, make sure it's not in my town," she said.
Each Bedford adult spending £5 a week at an independent business would bring £3.5m a year to the local economy a year, she said.
She said the response 74 businesses coming forward to put on £5 offers had been "massive".
Chris Sands, who created the Totally Locally Fiver Fest in 2010 in the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire, said Bedford was "easily the biggest" of the 40 towns taking part in the first ever national week, running until 15 June.
"High streets will only survive if people get together, work together and promote each other," he said.
Christina Rowe, of the Bedford Business Improvement District, said independents brought a "unique attraction" and gave the town a reputation as a "vibrant destination".
High streets in the UK
- Between 2012 and 2017, the number of high street retail jobs fell everywhere except London
- The number of businesses on the high street increased by 15% between 2012 and 2017, compared with a 22% increase in non-high street areas
- The number of retail businesses on the high street fell while those not based on the high street grew between 2012 and 2017
- In the same period, employment on high streets in the accommodation and food sector increased by more than 20%
Source: Office for National Statistics