Think more creatively

On May 5, I composed the following for the Berwick Advertiser as a ratepayer and member of a now extended local family of almost 20 local shoppers.

Friday, 30th November 2018, 8:00 am

When Coun Richard Wearmouth took over as head of Arch, now Advance, I decided to pull the letter and send it to him and our county councillors.

Having read reports on his Advance plans in the Advertiser, and not yet had a reply from him, I now resubmit my six-month-old letter.

Almost 20 years ago, in 1999, I undertook a survey of Berwick shops for Berwick Borough Council, and I repeated the exercise last week (April 2018).

My list shows the number of empty shops today, with the 1999 figures in brackets:

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Charity shops 5 (8).

Empty shops – Walkergate 0 (2); Marygate 8 (0); Scotsgate 1 (2); West Street 1 (2); Bridge Street 2 (2); Hide Hill 2 (1); Woolmarket 0 (1); Castlegate 1 (4).

Fifteen empty shops today, 14 in 1999.

The major change is in where the vacant shops are.

Marygate was full, now eight premises are empty.

Bridge and West are destination streets, with a good mix of shops. They are wonderfully cohesive, each piggyback marketing off one another, and each providing a happy buying experience for customers, more fun than transacting via a computer screen.

That is the key to reviving shops – make them more pleasurable to visit than the internet.

High Streets are changing throughout the land. A recent report shows that convenience stores, pubs, banks and estate agents are closing, with coffee shops, ice cream parlours, book shops and funeral parlours taking their place.

It is said that Marygate is more expensive per square foot to trade in, through high rent and rates, than Princes Street in Edinburgh.

Vacant shop owners ought to be encouraged by whatever means, stick and carrot, to make their premises attractive and to the right kind of business, which will attract other like-minded enterprises, the piggyback model.

This is something which, for whatever reason, successive councillors over my recent quarter-century seem unable or afraid to tackle.

Boots and Burtons and others can only survive because they own their properties.

On a positive note, but also a cautionary one, we recently visited Dumfries and Galloway, eagerly anticipating returning to the wonderful market towns of Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Kircudbright.

We found them in very sad and sorry states – 60 per cent of the shops empty, the others selling low quality goods, even Poundland had quit, and tourist offices closed.

We found similar situations at Cupar and other, once proud, rural Fife communities and those of rural Aberdeenshire, such as Huntly.

Ever happy to return home to Berwick, I literally thanked God, even more so as I surveyed our shops in and out of town.

In comparison to Dumfries and Galloway, rural Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, I felt as though I was returning to a relative economic utopia.

There is much to do, but not by saying ‘they ought to do something’, for we are all makers of our own history.

With some vision and creative thinking we can regain Marygate.

This was a high street I first enjoyed when working here in the 1960s, then a unique blend of shops with folk living above them, instead of curtainless windows with no human presence above the ground floor, and in eight empty premises today, none there also.

Hatters Lane car park being long stay, rather than ‘short for shopping’ does not help either.

Alan Hughes