So, this Christmas was not the lifesaver of the High Street we were hoping for? And neither were the sales apparently. We know, of course, that business rates have put shops under huge pressure, especially smaller ones (what’s left of them). But those of us who love shopping, or are an ex shopaholic like me, know it’s much more than that. And a snippet of a call to a chat show on the radio the other morning reminded me sharply of what I’ve felt for a long time – shopping in the UK has become so… well… boring! “In France,” said the caller, “you have an infinite variety of small shops, but here the shops are the same in every shopping centre in every town and it’s getting worse and worse!”
He is right of course. I’m not sure the shops are any better abroad, but they are definitely boring in the UK now. Globalisation is to blame. The high streets are filled with huge global brands that dominate, sometimes they have more than one shop in a street! And all the coffee shops and sandwich shops are now brands rather than independents too. Sometimes you see one that looks a bit different, but on investigation they often turn out to be a chain as well… I remember when chain shops had many advantages – you could swap or return at any branch, you could order stuff and so on. But now the chain shops have mostly become global and taken over everywhere, it’s just a bore, and even a bit depressing. You can’t even blame the brands themselves for all of it, if the small shops can’t afford the rent, then the big boys will of course move in, otherwise we lose the high street completely.
There is some individuality – we now have artisan bakers, farmers markets, high end independent jewellers and so on, but these are aimed at the wealthy, not your average shopper. So what it boils down to is if you are rich you have plenty of choice from individual retailers, but if you are on an average wage it’s the global brands or nothing. And they wonder why we don’t hit the high streets like we used to – even with 70% reductions in price being offered – and many sales on BEFORE Christmas.
I have long found shopping or ‘browsing’ for fun rather tedious and pointless now – because it no longer IS fun. Shopping used to cheer me up – it can brighten the mind, lift a mood, give you ideas on gifts or events, break inertia, etc. There have been times when I have had to cut back so I deliberately didn’t go near any shops – but to be honest even when I have been able to afford it these days, I struggle to find anything particularly enticing. Am I spoilt? Or have I become boring myself? Maybe… but even when I want to buy something I find the lack of individuality and choice, the repetitiveness of high streets with the same shops everywhere puts me off completely. It really is such a shame. It doesn’t matter what you want to buy, whether its food, clothes, jewellery, children toys, shoes, furniture or anything, we are forced to choose from a pool of large global retailers. And if you read up on them even slightly you often find they are all linked to each other.
And as for the throwaway aspect – we are encouraged to constantly churn over clothes, shoes, food, phones, TVs, cars, everything, and replace with something NEW – but that something is never individual – it’s always uniform to what is being pushed. Not so long ago the high street was very different. Each shop had different things for sale and was often run as a small business. It was worth browsing to be different. I have things I bought years ago that I treasure. But that uniqueness is now gone.
It wasn’t so long ago that I remember British ingenuity was being celebrated and pushed by the government. Designers, rock stars and all kinds of successful British celebrities were invited to Downing Street to celebrate ‘Cool Britannia’ – a great idea! What happened to that spirit? We need it now.
We are soon to be leaving the EU, so long as those still throwing hissey fits over it aren’t given into, and we need to find renewed pride in all things British and for us all to pull together and believe in ourselves and our country. No point in being free but living in the same old way. Now is our chance to celebrate all things British again, our feet rooted firmly in our own soil but looking bravely out into the future and exporting to the world. We don’t just need to buy British, we need to invent, create, make, design and innovate all things British again. We are a hugely creative nation – providing the world with everything from Shakespeare to the Rolling Stones, the Rolls Royce to Concorde, the light bulb to the steam train, the jet engine, the telephone and the TV, not to mention all our amazing designers. How have we allowed our high streets to be filled with such boring offerings, and for there to be such doom and negativity about relying on ourselves? We are the inventors of the world! Or we used to be…
Now is the time for start afresh. Once we leave the EU, let’s make our high streets exciting, individual and booming again. Let’s fill them with all kinds of fantastic designs and inventions. Let’s have faith in our young people to be the brightest and the best. Let’s be the eccentric, innovative, individual, outlandish, iconic, imaginative and adventurous people we always have been until we became squashed, oppressed, and well… boring. We can and must rescue ourselves and utilise our adventurous spirit.
Rule Britannia, Cool Britannia, Buy Britannia… Look out world – here we come!