Published: 08:51, 01 October 2020
| Updated: 08:53, 01 October 2020
An independent shop in Ashford has been highlighted in a national report of how to help boost our struggling high streets.
The Made in Ashford store in Park Mall was one of six UK businesses highlighted in a new report by the London School of Economics.
A collaborative of local arts and crafts people, it is run by Craftship Enterprise CIC, a social enterprise which aims to help support and nurture small creative businesses by giving them an affordable platform on the high street to showcase and sell their products.
Commissioned by independent trust Power to Change, which supports community business in the county, the report looks at how community outlets can help revive the flagging fortunes of traditional retail centres.
Entitled Saving the High Street: The Community Takeover, the report identifies that business run by local people for local people brings a "stability" to the high street - unlike more "remote" corporate businesses which, it says, are more inclined to pull out of areas when business models stop working.
Made in Ashford delivers community-based craft and creativity activities that has been successful in attracting new people to Ashford’s high street as a shopping destination. In turn, this has brought benefits to other local businesses and has supported the town’s regeneration. The business is also successfully incubating other small enterprises and new high street businesses.
Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change, said: “Whilst changing retail habits may have kick-started the decline of our high streets, it is the underlying issue of fragmented property ownership and disengaged remote landlords that in the end will choke the life from them if we don’t act now.
“Community ownership is vital to the revival of the high street. Communities not only care passionately about their local area, more importantly they understand the needs of local people and provide distinctive services that meet local needs.
"This new research shows what can be achieved in places like Ashford when local authorities get behind communities and help local people to take ownership over their high street buildings. The results are stable, sustainable and thriving town centres that are in the best possible shape to deal with any future crisis.”
The town's MP, Damian Green, added: "The long-term success of Made in Ashford shows how community spirit can combine with commercial activities to bring vibrancy and life to a town centre. It allows other local businesses a vital outlet for their products and ideas, so the whole area benefits.”
Made in Ashford, which started in 2015 as a three-month 'pop-up' store in one of the shopping centre's empty stores, has proved a success ever since.
The outlet's Melissa Dawkins added: “Our aim is to give small creative businesses an affordable platform on the high street where they can showcase and sell their products. Made in Ashford began life as a pop-up shop, and with the ongoing support of Ashford Borough Council, we’ve become a permanent fixture on our local high street, promoting and supporting creative businesses and art-based activities for the community.”
'The long-term success of Made in Ashford shows how community spirit can combine with commercial activities to bring vibrancy and life to a town centre' - MP Damian Green
Ashford Borough Council paid to refit the shop and formally commissioned a founding member of the CIC to manage the shop. It is now working on moving the enterprise to a larger space in the town centre.
The report calls on local authorities and statutory funders to do more to support community businesses to grow their presence on high streets. It argues that promoting greater ownership will help secure the high street’s future by making it more diverse and less reliant on remote corporate retail organisations.