Decline of Wanstead High Street? Not if we have anything to do with it. Guest blog Scott Wilding

Scott WildingWith the recent closure of some key shops along Wanstead High Street, chairman of the Wanstead Society Scott Wilding gives his three-point plan on how we can help protect our local shopping centre

Over the last 18 months some long-standing businesses have left Wanstead High Street. These include Barclays Bank and AG Dennis the butchers, and HSBC will also be closing next month. So is this the start of the demise of our High Street? Well – no is the short answer, but we all have a part to play in promoting and protecting our local traders. If we don’t use ’em, we’ll lose ’em!

Some good news…

The good news is that Wanstead High Street is a thriving retail area. It won a purple flag for its night-time economy last year, which is an award for good night-time facilities like restaurants and bars. It’s also a Conservation Area, which means the overall character is protected, and with less than 5% of the total retail offering empty, the High Street is doing better than most in the country.

I know most of the retailers along the High Street and they are a hard-working bunch, clubbing together to form the Wanstead Business Partnership and making an active contribution to help the community.

Some bad news…

There is no denying that rents have increased for our traders, and that was partly why AG Dennis closed. That, and the threat of Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, coupled with the way in which we all tend to shop (mostly in supermarkets and multinational companies) has meant that times have been tough for our retailers.

But the High Street’s demise is far from assured if we all take some action. So here is my three-point plan to help protect and promote Wanstead High Street..

  1. All of us: Let’s all make the effort to buy from our shops. If we don’t use what we have, how can they survive? We have two bakers, a fishmonger, a vintner and a grocers, plus two supermarkets, and that’s just for our average grocery needs. Wanstead has a huge variety of shops, and if we can persuade a butcher back, our food needs would be fully met. The big retailers have their fair share, so let’s shop local and support our own businesses.
  2. The Council: The paving outside the shops was laid in the early 1990s, so it’s coming up for 30 years old. In some places it ponds with water, in others it needs replacing. Good quality public spaces bring people and people spend money in shops, which in turn pay business rates to the council, which can help fund better streets. Yes, we know that money is tight (it always is) but either we invest in our high streets or they begin a decline. Lack of funding cannot be a catch-all excuse. Similarly, the council needs to invest in enforcement, cleansing, hanging baskets and lighting to improve the area. The Wanstead Society already look after the flowerbeds as best we can as volunteers, so we hope that’s one thing the council won’t have to pay for. Time for all of us to lobby those in power for investment in our High Street.
  3. The landlords: Put simply, keep rents at a sensible level or lose your own customers. The businesses along Wanstead High Street are struggling with higher utility bills and bigger rents than just three years ago. The UK is just recovering from the worst recession in living memory, wages haven’t kept up with inflation and if rents keep rising all you get are more empty shops. It’s the start of a downward spiral none of us can afford.

If we want our High Street to thrive, we all have a part to play. There are no profits in empty shops, and no community in an empty High Street.

This article was first published in the Wanstead Village Directory. The Wanstead Society is a charity that works to protect and improve the local area – visit wansteadsociety.org.uk or email info@wansteadsociety.org.uk. 

To read a previous Sophia Hubs guest blog on Wanstead High Street and a pop up shop click here

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