Northern Ireland

Christmas shopping locally 'supports a community dream'

Person shopping online for Christmas gifts Image copyright Getty Images

It has been 25 years since the first online retail transaction took place.

So, with Christmas shopping now often done with a simple click of a button, how hard is it to get people to shop locally in 2019?

Towns throughout Northern Ireland are trying to fight back, among them Donaghadee in County Down.

The seaside town is mounting a campaign to support local businesses.

At Robin's Nest Coffee and Gift Emporium, a "shop local" sign has pride of place on the door.

Inside, owners Jill and Stephen Kelly have lots of locally-made gifts for sale but they know well just how tough the fight against the giants of online shopping is.

"Online shopping has practically killed the retail trade, specifically on branded goods, but in Donaghadee we are lucky because our local community supports us," Jill told BBC News NI.

Image caption Stephen and Jill Kelly also raise money for their sons' football club and school

In their back yard, the couple is growing their own herbs and vegetables. They source the other produce they need from local butchers and fruit and vegetable outlets which are all within a 30-second walk.

They do not pay for advertising and instead sponsor a nearby football team.

They hope their sons, Stephen, 10, and eight-year-old William, will follow suit.

"Stephen and William are included in everything and they already know the importance of community spirit," said Jill.

"They know that local businesses are run by normal families who work hard to earn money, so you have to support them."

Around the corner, Wild Thing botanical store is in the middle of its busiest ever month, without a single online order.

Image caption Karen McCullough opened Wild Thing three years ago

"It's so easy just to shop online for everything but when you're supporting a local business, you are supporting a family with a dream and you're supporting your town," owner Karen McCullough told BBC News NI.

"Part of my reasoning for opening the shop in Donaghadee was because it is one of the only truly independent towns left.

"We don't have any of the larger chain coffee shops or chemists - they're all locally owned - and it is just a thriving little community."

Wild Thing ran Christmas wreath-making classes for almost 200 people in late November and early December, in conjunction with the neighbouring Copeland Distillery.

"When you're from a small town, it is so important to work together," said Karen.

"Each local business has something that it can bring to the table."

Christmas spirits

Gin and whiskey producer Copeland Spirits opened its distillery in Donaghadee in August.

"Around us, we have five restaurants, loads of great independent shops, a boutique hotel and amazing walks - it's a great wee community," said founder Gareth Irvine.

"There are plans for 300 houses to be built, a greenway and a new sports hub so, as businesses, we have to support each other and hopefully people continue to invest in the town."

Image copyright Copeland Distillery
Image caption Founder Gareth Irvine has been working with other local businesses since the distillery opened in the summer

The Copeland Distillery tour ends in Harbour and Company, about a one-minute walk away.

The bar and restaurant is owned by the Waterworth family, who also run Pier 36 pub, and have been long-standing champions of Donaghadee, supporting everything from rugby clubs to the town's sea swimming group The Chunky Dunkers.

"The more you work with the community, the more the community supports you," said Sarah Cochrane, from Pier 36.

"If you want a local business to be here in 10 years' time, you have to support it. You have to go out and shop in your town, whether it's for your milk or a Christmas present."

Image caption Aodhán Connolly is director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said that Northern Ireland as a whole came to online shopping "quite late" compared to the rest of the UK, in the winter of 2012-13.

Aodhán Connolly cites the rise in people getting smart phones, tablets and laptops as the reason online shopping became easier.

"That's why it is becoming more and more important for our towns and cities to be destinations with experiences rather than simple transactions," he said.

But, he added, it seems Northern Ireland consumers generally like to support local produce, "and that's why the large retailers have more local food in NI than anywhere else in the UK".

"That also means that there is a more eclectic mix of small and large retail and a symbiotic relationship. What is good for one is usually good for the other.

"With the pressures on retailers from government policy rising, it's important that we work together to ensure we have thriving high streets."

More on this story