Week 26 in my Greenhouse

Anyone who follows me on twitter will have become used to Saturday pictures and tweets about the progress or not in my greenhouse.  On the 28th March I began (week 1) and here we are at week 26 – half a year later.  Lockdown and the pandemic in vegetables and the occasional flower.

I have not used this blog for personal things, with odd exceptions; a sort of retail related Welsh rugby story (yes I’m still bitter Alain Rolland) and the death of my father (which is also rugby related).  So this is an exception, but there is a (minor) retail component.

I am doing this because week 26 seems a good place to stop and twitter is not expansive enough for some reflections.  I am stopping because the future week 27-40 something reporting the miserable state of the greenhouse is too much, even for me.  But as they say, I’ll be back.  And this time probably from February not late March.

We always grow things and I like doing it from seed; normally and mainly tomatoes and chillies.  But this year as we thought through the pandemic in March we expanded into a wider range and added potatoes, beans, courgettes and tried a few other things.  We normally get our seed from the wonderful Real Seeds and already had tomatoes (Galina, Dr Carolyn Pink, Ethel Watkins, Red and Green Zebras), chillies (Pretty in Purple) and courgettes (Verde di Italia, Biopees Golden and a Patty-Pan) in hand.  As lockdown hit us we added potatoes, runner beans (we had Czar from Real Seeds) and peas/broad beans from Suttons, as others had no stock due to increased demand.

Pretty much all of these worked; Maris Peer, Arran Piper and Charlotte potatoes, Scarlet Emperor runner beans and Sutton broad beans and peas.  Burpees Courgettes and Patty-pans were disappointing.  Some old beetroot and radish seeds failed.  Our herbs, again from Suttons, worked brilliantly (thyme, basil, sage, coriander, rocket and some lettuce).

Doing all this helped me get through the lockdown; I was one of the fortunate ones to have such an outlet.

As I said we saw a lack of product in many online stores and Suttons took their time but came through. Garden Centres of course were badly hit by lockdown.  We used a local one to get some pots and compost and they were brilliant in delivering (Torwood Garden Centre).  They took orders by telephone and next day delivery happened like that.  We’ve visited since they’ve been allowed to open, and they’ve done an impressive distancing job.

The other thing we started (not before time) due to lockdown was composting.  We had to wait for our composter due to high demand, but it seems to be working.

My flower sideshow saw our Nemesias and Rudbeckias really work, but the star of the show has been single dahlias from seed.  Never done that before and they’ve been brilliant.

In terms of retail spend I suspect I have spent a little less than normal though it is hard to assess.  The composter was an addition.  I missed going to garden centres and lockdown and thus avoided temptation, but we did buy things we needed online or over the phone.  Service and availability was understandably slower and lower than normal but we got everything in the end.  Retail coped, but the cost one suspects in lost sales has been high especially as so many garden centres rely on their café.  Perhaps though if people have had a good experience of growing from home they will continue next season.

And for my trusted gardening followers, there may be occasional tweets from the greenhouse, but then I may well be back once I start the new season.

Posted in Availability, Covid19, Food, Garden Centres, Gardens, Lockdown, Logistics, Retailers, Retailing, Rugby Union, Seeds, Twitter, Uncategorized, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Commuting and Retailing in Town Centres

It is not an unusual state of mind these days, but I am puzzled over a couple of things that have been the topic of discussions (or in the first case the media as well) I have been in over the last week or so.

The first is the approach, perhaps best articulated by members of the UK Government, to shame people back into work.  ‘Get back to work’ is the instruction; which comes as a surprise to many who had never stopped working but had just changed their mode and place.  The aim seems to be to save service businesses in big cities. The Scottish Government wanted no part in this and their advice remains work from home if you can.

Many people have told me that the novelty of working from/at home has worn off somewhat and that they miss aspects of their formal work sites.  But in the same sentence they rail against the unpleasantness (money, time and environment) of their daily commute, especially into our larger cities.  If the best we can envisage for our future is to continue to cram people into tin cans of various shapes, sizes and forms and force them to travel large distances and for substantial times and then herd into crammed buildings, all to do much what they could do from home or from a more local co-working centre, then we really have not got any ambition, imagination or sense.  The ‘daily commute’ became a swear word for a good reason.

There appears a challenge underway to the status quo, which as there are beneficiaries and losers is an issue. The eventual outcome will not be the extreme lack of commuting as it is now, but will see a reasonable transformation.  We will see a move back, but hopefully not wholescale and not to the previous levels – we can use technology to be more productive.  Cities have many attractions for many people and given them space to breathe will be a good thing.  People getting back their lives by reducing elements of their jobs they hate – and which are essentially unproductive – is also a positive thing in terms of individual and corporate wellbeing, as well as the economy and the environment.  Local places around cities can benefit from this.

My second puzzle has been the refrain that the problem with town centres is that they are too dependent on retailing.  This is then followed by the claim that out-of-town retailing and the internet have destroyed town centres.  I must confess to now beginning to challenge people when I hear these statements being made in the same discussion.

If town centres are too reliant on retailing then it is not because there is an insatiable, unending and overwhelming demand for retail space in your local town, which is driving out all other uses.  It is because lots of these other uses have also moved away from the town centre.  Which is why I also get very irritated by out-of-town retailing being blamed for the town centre problem.  As I have pointed out, all too often I suspect, we have decentralised so many things beyond retailing (you can see my example of Stirling in Julian Dobson’s book and in one of my presentations on this blog.  The problem is decentralisation per se and the lack of reasons to visit a town or abilities to live, work and play there.  The over reliance on retail in town centres is due to the under-presence of a breadth of other activities.  This is where we should be focusing.

For towns, these two issues may be about to collide.  Working at home is not the perfect solution for all, nor for all of the time.  Combining it with working locally – in a range of spaces and combinations to be developed – can be a boost for local places.  These new spaces need to be in accessible town centres and not reused decentralised offices or shops or retail warehouses or industrial estates accessible only by car.  No doubt there will also be a need/desire to work at times and points collectively, both locally and in large cities and offices.  It is the mix of all this, and the control it could give people that is interesting and exciting, as well as producing a more healthier and sustainable set of activities and places (and individuals).

Posted in Cities, Commuting, Decentralisation, Government, Localisation, Places, Reinvention, Retail Parks, Retailers, Retailing, Shopping, Stirling, Sustainability, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Buttercup Dairy Company

Buttercup tiles from book

One of the most enjoyable things about social media is the ease of connectivity to people, their work and interesting (well, to me) things.  It really is so much more simpler and easier than decades ago.

A good example of this is the fascinating and informative work of Lindsay Lennie (@historicshops) and Kathryn Morrison (@KA_Morrison) on historic shops and retail store design.  There are others as well (see the discussion of Burtons in previous posts and the recurring themes of ghostsigns), but from Lindsey and Kathryn I have been exposed to fascinating and informed discussion of retail and shop history.  I doubt whether this would have occurred quite like this pre-digital era.

That is how I came to learn about the Buttercup Dairy Company.  It was not a business that I was aware of, and it turns out to have an interesting story, including visually. The iconic image above must have come to my attention at some point in a discussion of tiles (probably from @historicshops) as it was familiar to me.  I think I also have a pre-pandemic notion of one of their shopfronts being recovered and restored this year (but see later). Given my interest in ghostsigns and design (though I am an amateur) and more recently, surviving Welsh dairies in London, something must have stuck in my mind about the style of this forgotten business.

But then in August, Kathryn Morrison produced her blog post on the Buttercup Dairy Company and summarised its fascinating, and in store terms, beautiful history.  It is an interesting retail story in its own right and her blog is well worth a visit and a read (I am not going to summarise the story here, so you might as well give her blog a visit). A tweet about visiting a good store survival (in design and tile terms) in Carnoustie added to the story.  Then I realised that Malcolm Fraser was the partner in the refurbishment of the Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh store (and its reveal of the historic fascia) for his new practice office (see @F_L_Architects).  The old and the new mixing together. His story on taking over the shop and uncovering more of the history has been reported here. He also kindly sent me the photograpahs of the shop front and his practice office and permitted their re-use below.

Buttercup DairyButtercup Dairy interiorButtercup Dairy 2020Buttercup Dairy 1920s

Kathryn Morrison’s blog also pointed to a book from a decade ago by Bill Scott, which I had missed at the time.  Getting a copy of this in this modern era was only a few clicks and a post office delivery away (if only there was a local bookshop) and more of the story was revealed.  There are good and bad parts to the history of the Buttercup Dairy Company but it has had a place in Scottish retailing and Scotland’s towns.  The fact that elements of the great design and tiling can still be seen is even nicer.  Others are better placed than I to reflect on the design, the style and the significance, but I have really enjoyed simply reading the story and seeing the images.  It has also made me want to visit some of the surviving examples (a list as at 2011 is in Bill Scott’s book).

Buttercup scott book cover

There was also a further part of the story.  As noted above, in this digital, lockdown era, tracking down a copy of Bill Scott’s book was easy.  A couple of clicks on AbeBooks and it was on its way to me.  As was an email.  The email told me the book was on its way.   But it also told me that the supplier was the on-line arm of Far From the Madding Crowd, Linlithgow, awarded the best independent bookshop in Scotland in 2017.  The email told me about the store (and invited me to visit), its events (real and digital) and its involvement in local festivals and so on.  It was simply a neat example of connecting with an online customer and linking services and the business to the bookshop, even in these times.   Rather different to the run-of-the-mill lack of engagement and communication of so many online businesses.

Buttercup far from the Madding


Bill Scott (2011) The Buttercup: the remarkable story of Andrew Ewing and the Buttercup Dairy Company. Leghorn Books, Alnwick. ISBN 978-0-9569206-0-7

Kathryn Morrison (2020) Buttercup Dairy Company. August 12th 2020. https://buildingourpast.com/2020/08/12/buttercup-dairy-company/




Posted in Architecture, Books, Buttercup Dairy Company, Corporate History, Creative Places, Edinburgh, Food Retailing, Grocery, Heritage, Historic Shops, History, Retail Change, Retail History, Retailing, Scotland, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Shopfronts, Signage, Town Centres, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland’s Town Centre Action Plan Review

TC review Logo

On 1st July 2020, it was announced that an Expert Review Group had been formed by the Scottish Government to undertake an appraisal of the Town Centre Action Plan published in 2013 as a response to the National Review of Town Centres (the Fraser Review).  I was asked to chair the Review.

Members of the Review Group include COSLA, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Improvement Service, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Carnegie Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, Public Health Scotland, Sustrans, Development Trust Association Scotland, Inclusion Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The terms of Reference for the Expert Review Group are

“To review the progress and scope of the Town Centre Action Plan, published in response to the National Review of Town Centres conducted in 2013 by Malcolm Fraser and the Expert Advisory Group, and produce a report by the end of 2020 detailing its findings with a revised vision for towns and a means to deliver that vision nationally and locally.

The review will place particular emphasis on how Scotland’s town centres can best recover from the impact of COVID-19, as well as the positive contribution they can make to meeting Scotland’s climate change ambitions and wider wellbeing outcomes. It will identify what further steps should be considered to make towns fit for all in Scotland.”

The Review is tasked with issuing its report and recommendations for consideration by the Scottish Government by the end of 2020.

The Town Centre Action Plan, published in 2013, can be accessed through the Scottish Government’s town centre regeneration page, where you will also find links to the 2013 National Review of Town Centres, as well as one year and two year progress reports on the Town Centre Action Plan.

In announcing the Review, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Ms Aileen Campbell said:

“Town centres are crucial to our economic recovery and renewal as we emerge from lockdown and it’s important we do all we can to support them. COVID-19 has changed the way we all live, work and shop, and we must develop safe spaces that meet the diverse economic, social and environmental needs of city, country, village and island populations.

“By nurturing connections between local producers and retailers and their communities we enhance the wellbeing of our communities.

“Our town centre-first approach has been held up as an example throughout the UK and globally. Now we have the opportunity to develop healthier, vibrant, and greener town centres that support communities to thrive.”

In agreeing to chair the Review, I noted:

“Our town centres need to be successful places which are socially and economically inclusive.

“The National Review of Town Centres in 2013 and the Town Centre Action Plan which followed have provided a pathway for towns in recent years.

“COVID-19 provides a challenge to our towns and town centres, but also an opportunity to rethink and re-energise our efforts to make towns fit for all in Scotland.

“I am delighted therefore to have been asked to lead this new group at this critical and important time.”

In the flurry of activity around that announcement and the subsequent work being put into place, I have neglected to say anything about this on this blog.

Obviously I am delighted to be asked to do this, have enjoyed getting stuck into some of the initial work and am looking forward to reflecting further on the Town Centre Action Plan, updating and filling in gaps and developing extensions that are needed and trying to develop a vision of town centres for our very changed world (and this is not just COVID but also the changed policy and other landscapes in Scotland including the role of Community and the impact of Climate Change).

You can read more about the announcement here. Information and progress reports on the Review’s work can be found here.

As the initial phase, there was a formal call for evidence and a series of oral evidence sessions which took place last week.  We are now reading and synthesising this evidence and reflecting on the changed context since 2013. This will inform our thinking and then we are likely to come out with some approaches and suggestions and test these with a range of stakeholders and others interested in strengthening our town centres.

In addition however, as part of the review, the Expert Review Group is inviting local communities to share their views through a public survey. The survey will run until Wednesday 30th September 2020 at 17:00. It can be accessed here.

On releasing the public survey, I commented again:

“Scotland is a nation of towns. But towns aren’t just a series of buildings, streets and pavements. They are made up of people and local communities. As we begin the task of forging a new vision for towns it is crucial that the voices, views and ideas of local people are at its heart.

“The Review Group wants to hear from as many people as possible about their experiences and their ideas for the future. Local people aren’t just bystanders in our towns – communities are the very life-blood of our society. If we can put together a strategy that has community input and buy-in from the start, it is our hope that we can all share in the responsibility for its success.”

It is important that we get views, not just from those who are normally involved in town centres but in those who use them and would like to see them flourish. We are trying for as broad an engagement as we can and hope that we can think through the opportunities we have to make our towns greener and healthier places. This may involve more radical thinking than we have seen before, given the challenges we now face. I have commented on some of these here before.

Much more is to come on this topic.










Posted in Barclay Review, BIDS, Bids Scotland, Bill Grimsey, Community, Consumer Change, Consumer Lifestyle, Consumers, Government, Health, Internet shopping, Local Retailers, Public Realm, Retail Change, Retailers, Scotland, Scotland's Improvement Districts, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Shopping, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Action Plan Review Group, town centre first, Town Centre Living, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Understanding Scottish Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Writing the Rules of the Game’: Non-market Strategy, commercial interests and health policy

The UK Government has recently published a set of proposals and statements about restricting commercial activity as part of an approach to tackle obesity.  We have also seen the first stage of a ‘National’ Food Strategy be published.  In Scotland previous proposals to tackle ‘junk food’ and other promotions have had to be paused while the COVID responses become clearer. Health policy and restrictions on marketing, promotion and sales have become very topical.

I have covered some of the background to aspects of the broad context previously.  Our work for Food Standards Scotland three years ago provides some background to health policy and retail shops.  I have also discussed the role of retailers as social engineers, policy interventions for healthier diets, the  large store ‘health levy’ and its quick demise and the healthcare retail standard for hospital shops.  All cover what may be seen as a government ‘interference’ in commercial activities in an attempt to improve population health.

More broadly in intervention terms in Scotland we have seen the smoking ban, tobacco display legislation, plastic bag levy, minimum unit pricing on alcohol (and the long legal battle to stop it) and the deposit return scheme.  All (and not all are public health issues) have been challenged strongly, often under the guise of the ‘nanny state’ or interference in rightful business.  The fight over the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (the ‘Sugar Tax’) provides another example of this defence of entrenched profitable positions, as do the changes to the Public Health Responsibility Deal as it developed.  The long battle against tobacco (and its addiction and health damage) and plain packaging, visual merchadising and display control is another illustration (see one small example of practice here).

Market positions and companies that are challenged by public health measures erect defensive barriers to protect that position. That much is obvious; but how can we think about these practices?


I am one of the co-authors of a paper, recently accepted for publication and available online in Social Science and Medicine.  The lead author, Elizabeth Eastmure, is currently completing her PhD (see her work with colleagues on the Public Health Responsibility Deal)  and is lead-supervised by Professor Steven Cummins (with whom I worked a long while ago in the health impacts of food superstores in Glasgow and who is an expert on aspects of public health, health interventions and food policy).

Our paper outlines the role of non-market strategy and its relevance to public health.  We define three broad categories of non-market strategy using examples relevant to public health and outline why understanding such activities/strategy are important for public health researchers to understand.

Businesses operate in the market through the development and maintenance of a range of products and services, supported by activities including advertising, promotion and pricing with the primary good of making a profit.  However the market does not exist in a vacuum and is not a neutral entity, being constructed by political, cultural and social forces, which can be collectively referred to as the ‘non-market’.  This too is maintained and developed by businesses.  While the ‘rules of the game’ are perhaps a given in the market, use of non-market strategy is about ‘writing the rules of the game’.  Our paper explores how these rules are written.  Understanding this is important for policy development as it helps understand how, why and where challenge to public health interventions might occur and some of the tools and methods used by businesses to protect their market positions.

Elsevier have provided 50 days free access to the article and you can get a copy (until September 25th 2020) by clicking on this link


Eastmure E.; Cummins S. and L. Sparks.  Non-market strategy as a framework for exploring commercial involvement in health policy: a primer.  Social Science of Medicine, Volume 262, October 2020


A copy is also available via the University of Stirling’s research repository (STORRE): at http://hdl.handle.net/1893/31517

Posted in Academics, Alcohol, Consumers, Diet and Health, Food Retailing, Food Standards Scotland, Health, Healthcare Retail Standard, Hospital Shops, Large Store Levy, Markets, Non-market Strategy, Politicians, Profits, Promotion, Public Health, Public Health lev, Public Policy, Regulation, Retail Levy, Scottish Government, Sugar Tax, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Retail sales surge close to pre-lockdown levels”

The retail headlines last week were interesting. Based on the latest Office for National Statistics retail sales data (for June 2020), the media packaged up a story about how UK retail sales had surged to pre-lockdown levels and were close to being normal (BBC, Reuters, The Grocer, Telegraph, Independent are amongst examples). The sense in many of the reports was of some return and stability/normality in retailing, now and in coming months. For obvious reasons, this is not an accurate reflection of the situation, nor indeed of the detail in the data that ONS presents in its report. Some of the media did manage to nuance the story but many people will have simply seen the headline/soundbite. As many retailers will readily tell you, “normal” and “pre-lockdown levels” are not the norm.

So, what did the ONS data show? It is worth remembering that this is data to the end of June, and that not all of retailing had re-opened across the UK at this time. It is also probably noteworthy that this might have covered what could be seen as a “honeymoon” period as many consumers ventured out. They may well have stocked up but with little intention to  return quickly. There is some anecdotal evidence that July has not been as strong a retail month as June (though if the weather has been as bad with you as here in Stirling in July, I don’t blame anyone for not going out).

The overall series as shown in Figure 1 below does suggest that June has moved closer to pre-pandemic levels and that we have a “V” shaped retail recovery. But that does not replace the lost sales of April-May and looking more closely does not reflect a return to normal. It is getting there, but is not anywhere “back to normal”. And the “V” shape may or may not hold.

ONS JUly 2020 Volume

Looking below the overall fighure though, shows what we have known since lockdown commenced. Food retail sales have been very strong and if Figure 2 is anything to go by have settled down into a “new normal” pattern. Whether this will be sustained remains of course to be seen. This increase in food retail sales is attributable in no small part to the (until recently) continued lockdown and restrictions on food and hospitality places and also the new pattern of working from home. As was seen in the immediate inital phase of lockdown, a lot of food consumed outside the home had sudddenly to be purchased for in home consumption. This is only slowly altering and working patterns remian disrupted for many.

ONS July 2020 Food

The other great change that has been rather obvious has been the strength of internet sales and online and home delivery. This has been a lifeline for some and whilst Figure 3 below shows remarkable growth, the level reached was itself constrained by capacity (despite huge expansion in some quarters). There has been a massive rise in online sales. There has also been a consequent rise in demand for home delivery services, with Hermes recently announcing an expansion of 10,000 jobs (These jobs though may not be accounted for as retail in the national data).

ONS July 2020 Non-store

The final graph I have taken from the ONS though tells a slightly different story about online sales. Whilst the proportion of sales online has remained above 30% for June, it has fallen back from May. This can derive from more people being able to go to the shops and thus returning to physical stores and swtiching from online, but also a general expansion of retail sales physically as stores re-open and thus the proportion of sales being online falling, even if the volume remains high. This will be a figure that will be watched closely in coming months.ONS July 2020 Online penetration

There is far more to be gleaned from the ONS data than covered here and certainly covered by the media. There can be little doubt that we are still in strange and volatile times and that retail sales are going to be both heavily watched and variable in many ways over the coming months. One particualr thing did catch my eye though; the data report also shows that a reasonable proportion of retail stores (and it varied by sector) was not open in June. This begs a number of questions about what is happening. Will these stores re-open? With not all stores open and yet sales “back close to normal” does this suggest that some stores and businesses have, and are, doing very well (at least in sales terms)? We know this is true for food vs non-food, but variations exist both within and between sectors and locations.  In short, sales is one important measure, but the volatility and alteration is such that understanding the underlying reality is going to take much longer.


Posted in Consumer Change, Covid19, Data, Food Standards, Home Delivery, Internet shopping, Lockdown, Office for National Statistics, Online Retailing, Retail Change, Retail Sales, Sales, Shopping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grocery Market Shares in the UK 2020

In July of each year I have recorded the  Grcery Market Share of leading retailers in Great Britain as shown by Kantar data. This has been going on since 1997 and I have mentioned this series in this blog before (e.g. last year)mentioned this series in this blog before (e.g. last year). As we have all commented, this year is like no other and as the July point is based on sales over the last 12 weeks, the July data this year, are especially interesting.

The first figure below shows the raw Kantar data for this year, by retailer and compared to last July. It is worth going to the original source and having a play around with the timeline.

Gb Grocery Market Share 20192020

It is worth noting some obvious points about the sector. The last few months have seen a big rise in food retail sales (Kantar says up 17% over the last 12 weeks). Online sales within that have grown remarkably, such that Ocado is the fastest growing retailer in this series (and the M&S tie-up is yet to come). Online grocery market penetration (proportion of total sales) has almost doubled from 7.4% to 13% since March, and this growth has been limited by capacity constraints. We are also well aware of the focus on local and convenience during the lockdown and whilst there is some evidence of this now trending down, over the period reported here, the Co-operatives are up 31% year on year and symbols and independents are up 60%. Frozen food, and here Iceland is notable, has also been a very strong performer.

The figure above thus shows the leading players all losing market share (and this includes Aldi but not Lidl) with the growth being in the Co-operatives, Iceland, Ocado and symbols/independents. Asda performed the poorest of the big 3, probably due to its lower exposure to the small convenience sector.

The second figure below provides the long-run data since 1997 for the big 3 and more recently the discounters. The decline of Asda and the reversal for Aldi are the newer stories here. The long-term trends remain the same broadly, but Asda and Aldi must be hoping this current period is a blip. Certainly for Asda, the decline is not great news at a time when they are looking to be sold off by Wal-Mart. Conversely, those strong in local markets may be hoping that this localisation “sticks” and that their performance in store and in home delivery may cause some consumers to rethink their pre-pandemic behaviours.

GB Grocery Market Share 2020

Finally, and as also done last year, I present the CR3 percentage i.e. the percentage of the UK market taken by the top 3. In 2007, this reached a peak under this measure of 64.3%. This year it is 55.7% – a large decline from 57.4% last year and continuing the recent sharp downward trend – and is now getting close to where it was in 1997. Concentration has been reversing, and the “remaining” 45% is now more diverse than it was in 1997.GB Grocery Share 2020 CR3





Posted in Asda, Cooperative Group, Cooperatives, Covid19, Discounters, Food Retailing, Home Delivery, Independents, Internet shopping, Kantar, Lidl, Localisation, Lockdown, Market Shares, Ocado, Online Retailing, Retail Change, Retail Sales, Retailers, Retailing, Tesco, Uncategorized, Wal-Mart | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland Loves Local

SLL banner

People across the country are being urged to think local first and help fuel the nation’s financial fightback from coronavirus by supporting local businesses whilst still being aware of the public health guidelines.

On the 20th July Scotland’s Towns Partnership launched its Scotland Loves Local campaign – in association with the Scottish Government – encouraging everyone to support the businesses which are at the heart of their home communities. The campaign seeks to remind all those living in Scotland that town centres aren’t just a series of buildings and pavements – they are made up of people – and harness the compassion and solidarity that was shown by communities during the coronavirus outbreak to help fuel the recovery.

Details of the campaign can be found at the Scotland Loves Local website.

The campaign follows publication of new polling figures which showed two thirds of Scottish residents intended to shop locally once their high streets reopen post-Coronavirus and that the successful future of town centres depends on support at a local level.

Businesses across the country have been working with Business Improvement Districts, Local Authorities and others to put in place arrangements which mean people can shop locally, but safely. These arrangements include the use of screens, distance markers and signage, the provision of hand sanitiser in-store and capacity limits.

It comes at a time when the need to safely and responsibly support town centres has never been greater following the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many traders – some of whom have been at the heart of community response campaigns during the crisis – have been forced to temporarily close throughout lockdown, with customers instead turning to large internet retailers.

In launching the campaign, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell MSP said: “It is now more vitally important than ever to consider shopping, eating and drinking locally as we all have a role to play in Scotland’s economic recovery. Simple steps like choosing to visit a nearby shop or café, or buying goods or services from a business in your own community, helps support jobs and goes a long way to fostering the vibrant selection of products and services on offer close to home.

“By following the public health advice, we can all make exploring what the neighbourhood has to offer as safe as possible. I would encourage everyone who is able to head out and discover for themselves what living locally can offer them – I know that business owners at the heart of our communities will appreciate it immensely.”

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, said: “The impact of coronavirus has hit our town centres and local businesses hard. Now is the time for us all to support them to get back on their feet in a way which recognises that we still need to stay safe and follow the public health guidelines.

“By thinking local first, we can help Scotland’s economic recovery from its grassroots, supporting our town centres within all of the public safety guidelines. The impact we can have by doing this should not be underestimated. The breadth of businesses in our town centres is vast. Whether you need a book, a pint of milk, a night out and a meal or some garden furniture, please think local first”.

“Scotland Loves Local is all about getting people back to their roots and recognising that our town centre businesses and the people who run them are part of the fabric of our communities. Sometimes for generations these people have been there for us. Now it’s time for us to be there for them. One of the great positives of the terrible times in which we have found ourselves has been the greater appreciation of localism. We must now harness that to keep our communities vibrant and lay firm foundations as we work to ensure our town centres are fit for the future.”

SLL Banner 2

As part of the launch, I wrote a guest column for one of the campaign’s partners, The Herald (see full list at end) and reproduce it here:

Herald 1

Herald 2

The Herald, 19th July 2020

Scotlandloveslocal partners

Scotland Loves Local Partners

Posted in Bids Scotland, Campaigns, Community, Consumer Choice, Consumers, Covid19, Government, Independents, Internet shopping, Local Authorities, Local Multiplier, Local Retailers, Localisation, Places, Retailers, Retailing, Scotland's Improvement Districts, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Scottish Grocers Federation, Scottish Retailing, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lockdown Reading: Welsh Saints on the Mormon Trail

Mormon 1

When we were living in the USA in 2000-1 we flew to Jackson Hole in Wyoming via Salt Lake City.  That last flight to Jackson Hole was the most unpleasant flight I’ve taken before or since, shaken and bounced over mountain thermals in a small plane.  Other than that, Northern Utah and Salt Lake City are not places I know.

On another trip to Wyoming we visited Independence Rock and at Guernsey, the rutted trails through rocks of the Oregon and the Mormon Trail.   From these visits, and to forts on the trail, combined with long forgotten black and white films, I had some vague knowledge of the movement of people east to west in the USA in the 1850s or thereabouts. But what I was not aware of was the role of Welsh settlers in Salt Lake City and the Mormons or of the experience of the Welsh emigrants on the Mormon Trail.

At the start of the lockdown though, I came across a new book (strictly an English translation of a book from a couple of years ago orginally publioshed in Welsh) by Wil Aaron, telling the story of this Welsh emigration.

For anyone interested in Welsh history the book is fascinating and informative.  It draws on various sources and diaries (often in Welsh) and tells a story of suffering and endeavour over 15-20 years or so of difficult emigration on the trail.  It is an incredible story.

I found the book interesting and enjoyable, but accept this may be a minority interest.  There is though a retail link as well. I was taken by a retail story in the book around a pioneer Mormon called William Ajax, originally from Llantrisant in South Wales (a few miles from where I was born).

In 1869 he opened a store in Salt Lake City but came into competition with Brigham Young and the Mormon Church when they set up the Zion Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) aiming to defeat non-Mormon businesses profiting from Mormons.  Brigham Young told Mormons to only shop at the ZCMI and apparently banned the faithful from Ajax’s shop, excommunicating him for good measure.

The book reports that Ajax moved to a remote area and then quietly opened up another shop – this time underground.  The book says this is due to the heat and dust, but one does wonder.  The underground store was at least four tennis courts in size, from where he sold a wide range of goods, and the store came to be known as the ‘eighth wonder of Utah’.

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Following William Ajax’s death in 1899, the store declined, as competition from catalogues, the decline of local mining and the increase to access to the city brought about by the railway coming, all combined to end the shop and the village. Nothing remains today. (A YouTube video of the site and the historical marker is available here)

Having visited a small part of the trail, and seen trading posts and shops in historic ghost towns, one can only marvel at the fortitude of these emigrants and wonder at how supplies were obtained, delivered to the stores and then sold.  Many stories and aspects remain untold.

The Welsh on the Mormon Trail is a niche interest, but I found it fascinating and testimony to complex societal, religious and personal struggles.

Aaron W (2019) Welsh Saints on the Mormon Trail. Y Lolfa, Talybont.  ISBN 978-1-912631-20-9.

Posted in Ajax Underground Store, Buildings, Catalogues, Cooperatives, Department Stores, Emigration, Historic Shops, History, Mormons, Places, Retail History, Retailers, Retailing, Uncategorized, USA, Wales, Zion Co-operative Mercantile Institution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Build Back Better: Bill Grimsey and Covid

When Mary Portas produced her report for the UK Government on high streets, Bill Grimsey was quick to posit an alternative and to focus on leadership and technology for places.  His report and its follow-up a few years later have become important contributors to the discussion of the need for change in towns.

In his follow-up report he made a number of references to Scotland and its Town Centre Action Plan, the role of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and its partners and broadly pointed to the need for similar actions elsewhere in the UK.

His reports, agitation around towns and retail change and his willingness and availability to debate the issues has seen Bill Grimsey have a sustained influence on the discussion.

Grimsey Covid

So it was no surprise that he (and his team) have produced a ‘Covid supplement for town centres’.  Covid is a disruptive event and an accelerant to the changes already underway. Thus, in this supplement Grimsey asks if we have too many streets, what a post-Covid town looks like, how we empower local communities, what should replace rates, how we build green and amenity space into towns and fundamentally who are towns for?

These are good questions.  His responses to them are focused around three key ideas – location, leadership and fewer cars, more green space – and 27 recommendations under 7 headings – power to communities, leadership, taxation, post retail planning, property, planning and transport.

As in the previous reports, there are interesting ideas and thoughts in this supplement and the underlying sentiment and realities are important.  There are numerous small examples of where change has had a positive impact. There is a danger though that it is a bit of a wish list and the ‘how’ question is left too unresolved, despite these examples.  The examples help in answering how, but beg the question over the barriers to doing this, locally and more generally. As Neil McInroy said in a different discussion about place and communities, many of the examples we cite exist “despite the current system” and not because of it.  We need to understand what more do we must do and how can we refocus and rebalance our entire system to meet economic and social needs. This is a bigger moment than we have ever seen.

So my question is whether “build back better” is likely to produce the same solutions at the same pace as before and return us to where we were pre-covid?  Would it be better to be bolder and to think about more than the solution to high streets and retail and about how we want to be different and changed by the pandemic, and not simply survive it?  Bill Grimsey’s report has components of this, and is a starting point for more systemic change.

We need to grasp the moment and work out how to do what we must do, at pace. The risk otherwise is that our responses to the pandemic become inhibitors to the changes we need and not the catalysts for change required.

Posted in Bill Grimsey, CLES, Community, Consumers, Covid19, Government, High Streets, Leadership, Local Authorities, Mary Portas, Places, Proactive Planning, Public Policy, Regulation, Reinvention, Retail Change, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Social Justice, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments