Shop closures blow for ailing high street

Berwick's beleaguered high street has been dealt a double blow at the beginning of the new year.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 13:49
Closing down - Thorntons and Claire's in Berwick are both closing down.

Claire’s (Accessories) and Thorntons are both closing their stores on Saturday, taking the number of empty units on Marygate to 10.

They are the latest in a steady stream of multi-national retailers to leave the town centre in recent years.

Although this has been offset to some extent by the success of independent retailers, notably on Bridge Street, Berwick Chamber of Trade admits the decline of the town’s main shopping thoroughfare is a major problem.

Stephen Scott, Chamber secretary, said: “The latest closures to be announced are unfortunately not surprising and reinforces the challenges faced by the traditional ‘High Street’ across the country as a whole.

“But this latest news should be used as an incentive for urgent action to be taken. This action needs to include the creation of a plan for Berwick town centre to make it able to meet the current and future needs of our residents and our visitors.

“We need to create a ‘High Street’ that offers something different and unique, to create an offering that accepts that the retail requirements of the 21st century have changed and that the new high street needs to embrace much more than retail businesses. It needs to offer, entertainment, hospitality, community services and more varied independent retailers.

“Berwick Chamber of Trade acknowledge that the situation may well deteriorate further before it improves, but high streets have recently been subject to a number of high profile studies and the problem has been acknowledged by the Government in the recent budget, where some financial support was made available. We need to take on board the messages and lessons from these studies and develop solutions that will work specifically for Berwick.

“Berwick Chamber of Trade aims to work with our local authorities and all stakeholders that can help to facilitate this goal. For the ‘High Street’ of the future change will be the only constant, this needs to be acknowledged and embraced by all.”

Among the possibilities being explored is a Berwick bid for the Government’s £675million Future High Street Fund, announced in the last Budget, which aims to help high streets evolve and adapt to the changes in the retail environment in recent years.

It is understood Northumberland County Council would put the bid together with input from Berwick Regeneration Commission and Berwick Town Council.

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Coun Catherine Seymour, member for Berwick North, said: “It’s obviously disappointing to lose two more shops to add to the other empty shops on our high street.

“Many shops, franchises and large chains are having to tighten their belt in this evolving and changing economy, due to the increase of internet shopping. Retail parks are also on the increase on outskirts of towns throughout the county that do not help town centres, especially if those businesses move from the town centre to these parks!

“For this Future High Street Fund, we are looking to bid on to support the regeneration of our ‘heritage high streets’ for new work spaces or cultural venues as well as provide support for additional accommodation above the shops to use the space to help revitalise the town.”

Claire’s is closing because its lease is up. It is marking its last day with face painting for children.

Thorntons was bought by the Italian chocolate-maker Ferrero in 2015 and has closed a number of stores across the country.

A Ferrero spokesperson said: “Like any retailer, we are continuously reviewing our store estate to ensure we are in the locations that meet our customer needs.

“As a result of such a review, the decision was taken to close the store at Berwick on Tweed on 12th January 2019.

“Currently, five staff members are employed at the store and we are looking to find them other employment opportunities where possible.

“Thorntons has been delighted to serve our many local customers over the years and we would encourage them to shop for their favourite Thorntons products online at www.thorntons.co.uk in the future.”