Column by the leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Toby Savage.

Recently, the owner of Timpson, Sir John Timpson, spoke of his immense pride in his staff at a House of Commons inquiry about supporting high streets after Covid-19.

“The thing that has made a massive difference,” he said, “is the people in our business and how they have reacted to it. They have been absolutely fantastic.”

This sentiment could apply to every trader on our high streets in South Gloucestershire. All have played their part in helping our high streets to thrive in almost impossible conditions.

But what of the future? Our high streets were already changing before the pandemic. Covid-19 has simply accelerated that change, with more online shopping and home working.

About half of consumers now expect to shop locally more often, favouring a small, independent retailer over shopping centres, according to Shopify Research: In Sir John’s words, high streets need to “reinvent themselves” as places where, as well as shopping, people will want to “make a day of it and have something to eat, something to drink and so on.”

During our recent ‘Help Us Thrive’ campaign to encourage residents to support their local high street, I visited many traders, seeing first-hand the limitless combinations of this whole experience. High streets need the backing from Government to make this offer as strong as possible.

We awarded £400,000 of ‘Help us Thrive’ grants to support local high streets to adopt new technology, grow employment, and encourage greater diversity. Traders received most of the pot. But community groups also applied successfully, including Jigsaw Thornbury, a charity that supports children and young people with additional needs and disabilities. Their grant funded an accessible venue to bring their three service locations into one and recruit a staff member to recruit and train new volunteers. We have also made high streets more attractive and welcoming for people by installing new bins and removing graffiti.

Our acquisition of Kings Chase Shopping Centre for £10 million represents the potential for leisure, housing, and community services to revolutionise Kingswood high street. With this greater variety comes the stronger ‘whole experience’, greater footfall, and more opportunities for the high street to thrive. We will take a similar approach with Yate town centre.

But public investment can only go so far. On the frontline of embracing change is people. From shopkeepers who offer different ways of paying, to the local bar-restaurant owner who wants provide seating outdoors, these are the local champions that will help our high streets thrive.

We’re looking forward to working with local chambers of commerce, trader partnerships, community groups, and residents. If you have any thoughts on changes to our high streets or how you could help, get in touch