2020 was a tough year for high streets across the UK. Many small independents shut their doors during the lockdowns to never open again. High streets across the Three Counties lost big name retailers such as Debenhams, Monsoon and Beales.
It is impossible to put the blame entirely on Covid-19. Some of these businesses were in decline for sometime but what does their disappearance mean for our high streets? Can the high streets across Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire survive more of the same in 2021?
With more of the UK entering tier 4 and talks of another national lockdown, local business owners are expecting to temporarily close their doors once again. Once again, some of these businesses may never reopen leaving gaping holes on our high streets.
We have looked at some of the larger towns/shopping areas in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire to see how each will cope after another year of Covid-19.
High streets and towns that will bounce back after Covid-19
Watford – Because of its proximity to London and being home to Intu Watford, Watford’s high street and shopping disrtrict will bounce back fairly quickly. Watford’s nightlife will also bounce back when things return to normal and this will help the local retailers.
It is also important to remember that Watford is home to a number of service-based companies. When their employees return to their offices, lunch breaks and after-work browsing will benefit local retailers.
There are a number of factors that point to St Albans faring better than most. From a higher ratio of independents retailers vs chains to the higher levels of disposable incomes of local residents, St Albans residents are happy to shop local and pay more for the experience. We don’t expect much change in St Albans after normality returns.
Another market town with a large number of independents, Hitchin residents like to shop local and the town benefits from out-of-town shoppers. Things will return to normal pretty quickly for Hitchin. From its outdoor offerings to its unique independents, Hitchin has plenty to get the streets busy again. Expect to see new retailers looking to make an impact like Hitchin’s Chicken George did when they opened in the middle of the pandemic.
Milton Keynes is pretty much too big to fail. Did you know that Milton Keynes has the 5th highest number of business startups in the UK? For every store that closes in 2021, there will be someone willing to take the risk. High Street retailer Next opening a Beauty and Home concept store in the former Debenhams store is an example of this. Yes, There were some closures in Milton Keynes last year, for example Pizza Express but most empty units won’t stay closed for long when the lockdowns are over.
High streets and towns that will struggle after Covid-19
The largest town in Bedfordshire should in theory be the most resilient. But Luton has been masking a lot of problems for a long time. The Mall Luton still hasn’t departed from the legacy of The Arndale. Aside from some new signage, the Mall is exactly the same layout as The Arndale and contains pretty much the same retailers you see in every other shopping centre.Overall, The Mall Luton is a good place to shop but outside of The Mall is not welcoming enough for families and out-of-town shoppers. Encouraging new shoppers to venture outside of The Mall is going to be an uphill battle without updating the adjacent areas.
With an ageing population and shortage of unique independent shops, Hemel Hempstead could struggle in 2021. Great efforts are being made to improve the shopping district with The Marlowees looking very modern but it desperately needs new blood in the form of forward-thinking trendsetting retailers. Decent parking and good transport links are great but further changes will be need to get out-of-town to take the plunge.
If things return back to normal in the Spring/Summer, Hemel’s outdoor area need to be utilised to help encourage shoppers back. Good quality outdoor food and entertainment with temporary setting is a must for High Streets going forward.
There is no denying that stevenage as a shopping destination has been struggling for some time. Stevenage is far from the slum Sir Lewis Hamilton described it as but it could do with some modernising. This is happening as part of the Stevenage Better regeneration project. The big issue is the speed of these projects. With most of the construction industry still working throughout the lockdowns, there is no better time for ambitious plans to modernise areas such like Queensway North and the Bus Interchange.
We already discussed what needs to happen to improve Bedford High Street. Whilst this list is not comprehensive, it does cover the key problems with Bedford High Street and many other high streets across Bedfordshire.
In terms of retail , Bedford cannot compete with the likes of Milton Keynes so the High Street stakeholders need to focus on what Bedford did best (for a while). Bedford needs to look at its once thriving nightlife and entertainment sector. Split the High Street and surround roads into districts and do more to invite local entrepreneurs.
Another area with an ageing population and lack of unique independent shops. Dunstable High Street has been on a decline for sometime. There is no way of getting away from it. Most of the lower-end chains will survive but the revival of commutable towns and ease of parking at out of town retail parks will add more pressure on dated high streets in towns like Dunstable and Bedford.
St Albans Comedy Extravaganza returns to Verulamium Park in July
St Albans Comedy Garden presented by heycar is set to light up Verulamium Park this summer with a magnificent series of open-air shows from 27-31st July!
Starring legendary BAFTA and Perrier Award winner DYLAN MORAN, the guv’nor himself AL MURRAY, multi-award winning SARA PASCOE, the Last Leg’s ROSIE JONES, Father Ted star ARDAL O’HANLON, lo-fi hero DAVID O’DOHERTY and many more huge names performing at this year’s astounding set of open-air shows.
St Albans Comedy Garden line-up
Stand-up favourites are out in force too with cult poet / comic TIM KEY, German Comedy Ambassador HENNING WEHN, observational master ED BYRNE, Afterlife star KERRY GODLIMAN, Taskmaster champ LOU SANDERS, Edinburgh Comedy Award winner JOHN ROBINS, Netflix star JOEL DOMMETT, the inimitable REGINALD D HUNTER to name a few.
Alongside established names sit some of the brightest breakthrough talent such as the acclaimed CELYA AB, stand-up phenomenon FATIHA EL-GHORRI and the award-winning ESTHER MANITO, fast rising TADIWA MAHLUNGE all making their St Albans debut.
What to expect at St Albans Comedy Garden
Following last summer’s huge sell-out first edition St Albans Comedy Garden returns with another astounding programme of stand-up comedy presented in a fully-seated open-air theatre in the Park’s beautiful Water Meadow.
This year’s comedy extravaganza will once again be brimful with bars serving up a tastemaker selection of craft beers, cocktails and more, plus an array of street-food stalls from the leading lights of the local street food scene.
Tickets are expected to fly as comedy-lovers from St Albans and beyond grab the chance to see these masterfully curated shows, each featuring a host of critically-acclaimed stars guaranteeing a hit of absolute entertainment in the heart of the summer.
The sibling team behind the Comedy Garden, Cass Randolph and Will Briggs of 57 Festivals, can’t wait to return to St Albans. Cass said “We’re thrilled with this year’s line-up and to be back in Verulamium Park, we had such a great first year last summer, the audiences were an absolute riot, far livelier than we had expected! The acts really feed off that kind of energy and in turn give incredible performances.”
Will added “We have some outstanding acts joining us this year, i’m especially looking forward to seeing Dylan Moran headline our opening night and can’t wait to watch stand-out newcomers CELYA AB and FATIHA EL-GHORRI on the big stage.”
This year’s event is partnered with heycar, Chief Commercial Officer Karen Hilton said: “With this year’s Comedy Garden returning to St Albans, it’s shaping up to be an incredible, feel-good summer. We have so much laughter to catch up on after the last few years and I can’t think of a better way to do it. The line-up is truly world-class, and we’re particularly looking forward to seeing the incredible Joel Dommett in action. heycar is honoured to be sponsoring this incredible event and we can’t wait to see everyone in St Albans this July!”
St Albans Comedy Garden tickets
Get your tickets now and be part of this year’s magnificent St Albans Comedy Garden! Visit the website to find out more www.stalbanscomedygarden.co.uk
Blake Kuwahara launches Summer 22 eyewear collection
“After two very long years dealing with the pandemic, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel” says Blake Kuwahara. “This Spring Collection reflects that hopeful optimism with more color and adventurous shapes”. His design ethos of creating eyewear that is at once artful yet wearable is evident in his signature frame-within-a-frame laminated technique and use of contrasting colors as well as his cast bone motif used in his Grey Label Collection.
Also dropping this Summer will be a limited edition of the now iconic CHAMBERS in a custom Rainbow acetate in honor of PRIDE. “I posted a rendering of the CHAMBERS in rainbow colors on Instagram to celebrate and recognize the LGBTQ Community during PRIDE Month, and it got such an overwhelming response that we decided to produce it!”, says Kuwahara.
“With the lifting of COVID-related restrictions and a pent-up demand, retail is continuing gain traction buoyed by consumer optimism,” says Richard Mewha, President of Fade To Grey, the distributing company for Blake Kuwahara Eyewear.
Blake Kuwahara designs are available from leading independent opticians across Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
Kuwahara, the founder of the multi-disciplinary design agency, Focus Group West, first gained international acclaim as the creator and designer of the exclusive KATA Eyewear brand. His groundbreaking use of engineering and production techniques together with his highly curated eye reinvented the way eyewear design is approached today.
Kuwahara’s bold experimentation and innovation have gained him a following in the fashion media and has been profiled in Vogue, ELLE, Bazaar, GQ, In Style, and Esquire and has been seen on E!, Access Hollywood, MTV, and CNN. Buzzmagazine voted Kuwahara one of the “100 Coolest People in Los Angeles” and Detour magazine called him, “a gifted talent, blessed with savvy and unmistakable sense of style.”
Kuwahara was recently named by Brilliant Magazine as one of the “100 Most Important People in the Eyewear Industry”. Kuwahara has also collaborated extensively on eyewear collections for John Varvatos, Carolina Herrera, Isaac Mizrahi, Behnaz Sarapfour, Hanae Mori, and Coach.
A celebrity favorite, Kuwahara’s designs are worn by Lil Nas X, Elton John, QuestLove, Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Robert Downey, Jr., Will Smith, Jeremy Piven, Samuel L. Jackson, Casey Affleck, Slash, and Gwyneth Paltrow among many others.
Wycombe Swan Summer Youth Project is back for 2022
Returning for the first time since 2019, this year sees the return of Wycombe Swan’s Summer Youth Project. Running since 1993, numerous participants have gone on to have successful careers both on and off stage. Join us on our next adventure! Build confidence, develop skills, have fun, and make long-lasting friendships.
About Wycombe Swan Summer Youth Project (SYP)
Over the two-week project, Wycombe Swan comes alive to the sights and sounds of 150 young people doing everything they can to put on a full-scale musical in time for curtain up!
Participants have the option of taking to the stage as a performer, or to make magic happen as part of the Technical Team.
All performances take place on our main stage in the 1,000 seated Wycombe Swan Theatre.
Only those wishing to have a principal/speaking role or be a dance captain need to audition.
Big Fish The Show
This year, the show is BIG FISH. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton.
AUDITIONS (FOR THOSE WISHING TO HAVE A SPEAKING ROLE): Sunday 22 May
DATES: Mon 15 to Sunday 28 August
AGES: 9-21 (performers). 14-21 (technical team)
It is our wish that no young person misses out due to financial constraints. For this reason, we offer bursaries of up to 100% so that anybody can take part.
TO APPLY, AND FOR MORE INFO: Visit https://wycombeswan.co.uk/Online/summerproject
APPLICATION DEADLINE: Friday 13 May