Shop owners and councillors work on strategy to improve Malmesbury high street

By Nick Batten on 10 October, 2023

Town councillors, independent traders and key town centre stakeholders have come up with a plan to ensure the future success of shopping and hospitality in Malmesbury.

They gathered to talk about the future of the High Street at a workshop on September 18th led by Graham Soult FIPM – an expert on ‘place management’ and regular columnist with Retail Week. 

Dubbed the ‘Mary Portas of the North East,’ Graham lives in Gateshead and is a regular visitor to Malmesbury. He is well known for helping communities embrace their sense of ‘place’ and grapple with the many challenges facing High Streets up and down the land. 

A retail expert and fellow of the Institute of Place Management, Graham has worked with many communities to help them build their retail and hospitality offering – including Durham and Chester Le Street.

He said, “High Streets and the way we buy as consumers are always changing – we only have to compare the 1970s with now. People can find the current pace of change very disorientating.

“I do not subscribe to the narrative that we’re seeing the death of the High Street at all. In Durham around 80 per cent of independent retailers began trading since Covid. I know you have many great new shops, pubs and restaurants in Malmesbury too.”

Graham encouraged attendees to ignore the things they cannot change, such as the growth of online shopping, the cost-of-living crisis and business rents or rates. Instead he urged them to focus on what they can change for the better, such as being more collaborative, events to pull people in, creating a strategy to deal with any empty shops, ensuring visiting is as ‘barrier’-free as possible e.g., parking, toilets, accessibility and giving help and mentoring for independent business.

Working with Graham, attendees pointed out various ways they could improve the High Street in Malmesbury including, offering a personal and friendly service, providing excellent products, working more closely with each other to promote success and reviewing opening hours based on data around footfall and visitor patterns.

Retailers who attended the workshop included Victoria Parry (The Cake Tin), Emily Hepworth (Persephone Violet), Kalya James (Jackdaw Coffee House and Malmesbury Roost), David and Karen Drake (Caerbladon), Mark Jones (Fielder & Jones), Marianne Hofstra (The Kings Arms).

Other attendees alongside Town and Wiltshire Councillors included John Sunderland from Malmesbury Abbey and professional data marketeer Janet Snedden.

They agreed to gather real data about footfall at different times of day and at weekends; to focus on successful events to make them even better and to forge stronger relationships between independent retailers in the High Street.

Town councillors and Malmesbury Town Team agreed to have an even more open dialogue with the local retail and hospitality community, listening to their concerns and making changes where possible. 

Graham Soult will now provide an impact report to Malmesbury Town Council to encourage everyone to take appropriate short-term action – and then work behind the scenes on more long-term challenges. 

Cllr Grant said, “Ours is a great town with a terrific High Street and town centre. We want to keep it that way. So, it was fantastic to have a nationally recognised expert take time with us and for our local business community to respond so positively to the session.

“I know he was very impressed by the partnerships that already exist and the key projects we have identified for action. We are all eager to read and share his report and get to work together on the action plan.” 

Pictured above: (right to left) Malmesbury Town Mayor, Cllr Gavin Grant and Deputy Mayor Phil Exton taking a tour of Malmesbury High Street with retail expert Graham Soult