Shop Local: ‘We really need local people to support us’

Jon Walton.

Jon Walton. - Credit: Archant

The Sovereign Shopping Centre has a variety of activities planned to attract customers into Weston in the run up to Christmas.

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Weston's Sovereign Centre. - Credit: Archant

Shops have faced an unprecedented year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but shopping centre manager Jon Walton says stores in Weston are performing better than most, with footfall just 20 per cent lower than last year.

Mr Walton says shops have kept loyal customers returning by adapting to the pandemic and ensuring they are offering what shoppers want and need.

He said: “We’ve been quite resilient. We are not delusional in thinking everything is great, but footfall has recovered to 20 per cent lower, year on year, which is far better than the UK and South West averages.

“Around 85 per cent of tenants are on target or very close.

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Weston's Sovereign Centre. - Credit: Archant

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“We do benefit from being a compact centre in a local town so we don’t have huge spaces to fill and we have some great retailers and thankfully a loyal catchment area.

“It’s a lot better than it could have been, thankfully.”

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Commenting on what businesses need to do to survive, he said: “I think it’s about being responsive and agile – adapting to customers’ and the markets changing needs and requirements.

“Focusing hugely on local, customer experience and offering different solutions, such as click and collect, for example.”

The shopping centre, in High Street, was already working on plans to repurpose some of its empty units and spaces before the pandemic hit.

In July, Weston Collective opened a store in the shopping centre, giving 15 independent traders a base in the town centre.

It has been a huge success so far and the centre has more plans to enable independent traders and community groups to use empty retail units.

Jon said: “We are going to be operating a regular Weston Collective market in the former table tennis unit and the food hall area will be a winter fair.

“We will also be running a St Nic-nacks market from mid November.

“We want to make the centre as safe, friendly and as welcoming as possible, so people come out with a smile on their faces.

“The new Weston-super-Mare placemaking strategy is excellent and ensures that Weston will collaborate on future projects, under a strong identity to ensure it promotes and reinforces its many strengths.”

North Somerset Council’s placemaking strategy is a new vision for Weston which aims to make the town greener, healthier and more prosperous.

More: Project awarded £1.7million to revitalise town centre.

As part of the strategy, the authority was given £1.7million for its Weston General Stores project, which will enable vacant retail space to be used to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, shared trading space for retailers and facilities for events.

When asked what the high street will look like next year, Jon said: “My view is Weston is quite a resilient town and while there may be some casualties, I don’t think it will be hugely different.

“I think we will see different uses within the Sovereign Centre units and the town centre that will complement other excellent traders in the town. It won’t just be about retail.

“Weston College is opening up a digital hub in the Sovereign Centre, and Culture Weston is using one of our units.

“We’ll start to see different things opening up, not just retail, but other uses that will make you want to come into the town.”

Traders are encouraging people to support them over Christmas by shopping in their local high streets.

Jon added: “When more inclement weather arrives it is more difficult to get people out, but we are putting on a variety of Covid-safe attractions and events to tempt people into the town centre.

“If we can maintain our current footfall then we’ll be reasonably happy.

“But this period is key for us. We really need local people to support us.

“Weston will offer a real Christmas experience, something you cannot get online.”

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