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.
Love Brownies opens new cafe and shop in St Albans
Love Brownies, a Yorkshire Dales-inspired chocolate brownie company, is to open a beautiful café and brownie shop in the heart of St Albans,creating a number of jobs and adding a premium brand to St Albans’ bustling high street.
Established in 2009, Love Brownies is known for its decadent brownies and delicious seasonal menus. Originating in the Yorkshire Dales, the brand has a growing network of brownie shops and cafés, with St Albans being the fifteenth to open in the UK. So what makes Love Brownies so outrageously delicious? It’s no secret: they bake each one individually, by hand, using the best ingredients possible.
The Love Brownies Range
The new Love Brownies shop in St Albans will offer a mouth watering menu of indulgent handmade chocolate brownies in a variety of tempting flavours, magnificent brownie milkshakes (with vegan alternatives), a range of premium, freshly-brewed coffees and the bold flavours of Northern Bloc ice cream.
Love Brownies’ Head Baker and Owner, Chantal Teal said: “The St Albans shop will be our first to open in Hertfordshire and we’re so excited to bring our award-winning brownies and delicious Dales-inspired menu to a brand new audience.
Inside Love Brownies St Albans
The inside of a Love Brownies is a unique blend of a cafe and shop. St Albans residents can pop in to the cafe for a drink and one of their fabulous brownies. Love Brownies merchandise and products can also be purchased in store. These include Love Brownies tea towels, Love Brownies mugs and Love Brownies aprons.
For those on the go, a delicious ‘Dales Kitchen’ breakfast and lunch menu with pastries and jam-packed sandwiches will also be available for St Albans residents.
Love Brownies’ Head Baker and Owner, Chantal Teal also said “The shop is in a fantastic location and we’re anticipating a busy summer! We’re so pleased to be bringing business into the area during a time that has been so difficult for so many and can’t wait to be a part of the St Albans community.”
Where to find Love Brownies in St Albans?
The new Love Brownies café will be located at Number 1, Market Place and will open to the public at 8am on Wednesday 21 July. For more information about Love Brownies or to see a sample menu visit www.lovebrownies.co.uk or follow @lovebrowniesbakery on Facebook and Instagram.
St Albans Comedy Garden brings laughs to Verulamium Park
After a difficult 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions, St Albans residents can look forward to a laugh in the park as St Albans Comedy Garden brings laughs to Verulamium Park.
The all-new St Albans Comedy Garden promises the ultimate remedy this summer with five nights of stupendous stand-up comedy starring DARA O’BRIAIN, SARA PASCOE, ALAN DAVIES, TOM ALLEN, AISLING BEA, ROB BECKETT, JOSH WIDDICOMBE and many more in the glorious surroundings of Verulamium Park.
St Albans Comedy Garden line up
From Wednesday 28th July to Sunday 1st August comedy-lovers from St Albans and beyond will be treated to a dazzling array of stand-up superstars including the multi-award winning SARA PASCOE, the glorious DARA O’BRIAIN, observational wizard JOSH WIDDICOMBE, the stupendous ALAN DAVIES, riotous TOM ALLEN and the magnetic ROB BECKETT to name but a few.
Each show will be bursting with incredible acts featuring the very best names in stand-up like Netflix star PHIL WANG, British Comedy Award winner AISLING BEA, one-liner king MILTON JONES, Taskmaster champ LOU SANDERS, the undisputed queen of ventriloquism NINA CONTI, podcast heroes ED GAMBLE and JOHN ROBINS, stand-up champion REGINALD D HUNTER and the award-winning SINDHU VEE alongside fast-rising breakthrough talent like MAISIE ADAM, SARAH KEYWORTH and DARREN HARRIOT plus many (many!) more – all guaranteeing some much-needed uplifting hilarity for 2021.
This series of magnificent mixed-bill shows will be presented in an open-air theatre set in St Alban’s beautiful Verulamium Park. The comedy extravaganza will be brim full with pop-up bars serving craft beers, summer-styled cocktails and more to wash down tasty morsels from the leading lights of the local street-food scene.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the Comedy Garden has been specially designed to reflect the Government’s Roadmap, with added flexibility should the event need to be adapted to suit current guidelines.
Laughs in Verulamium Park
All shows will take place in a fully-seated open-air theatre with tickets sold in multiples of two, these key features are designed to ensure a smooth transition should social distancing need to be introduced across the event. If necessary the theatre-style seating will be transformed into socially-distanced seating plots and walk-up bars and street-food stalls will be replaced with a deliver-to-seat drink and snack service.
St Albans Comedy Garden tickets
Tickets for some of the shows are already sold out. Tickets for Wednesday 28th July with headline act Josh Widdicombe are sold out. The same applies for the late show on Saturday 31st July headlined by Tom Allen and Sunday’s 3.30pm show headlined by Dara Ó Briain. All other tickets are available at this time. For more info on tickets, click here.
About St Albans Comedy Garden
The team behind the Comedy Garden, 57 Festivals, have already successfully delivered a covid-secure event with their Greenwich Comedy Festival in September 2020.
This new St Albans event is the latest venture from the London-based comedy event company run by sibling-team Will Briggs and Cass Randolph. The pair have spent the last decade building a reputation for delivering meticulous comedy programming in boutique-festival settings.
Starting back in 2009 with the Capital’s critically acclaimed Greenwich Comedy Festival, held annually at the National Maritime Museum, the pair went on to introduce their Comedy Garden event to Bristol in 2011, followed by Brighton in 2019, and they are now incredibly excited to be bringing their winning formula to the cultural heart of Hertfordshire.
Cass say “The live industry has had a tough time of late and so we feel very lucky to have been able to reimagine our events to suit these challenging times, and we’re especially proud to be introducing this new event.”
Will adds: “There’s no doubt that everyone deserves some excellent live entertainment and we can’t wait to bring exactly that to our new St Albans audience. We’re working closely with the local council and our suppliers to make sure we deliver an event that is safe and enjoyable for everyone – and above all very funny!”
This summer’s event is all set to be a rib-tickling remedy to the past year, so get your tickets now and be part of the first-ever St Albans Comedy Garden! Visit the website to find out more www.stalbanscomedygarden.co.uk
Bedford to get Euros final to make Italians feel more at home
After overcoming Denmark to reach the European final, England and their fans excitement to play Italy in the English home of football may have been dashed. UEFA have decided to move home advantage from England to Italy by demanding the Euros 2020 final takes places at Meadow Lane, Bedford instead of Wembley. Bedford is unofficially referred to a Britain’s ‘little Italy’ thanks to it large Italian population.
Why switch from Wembley to Bedford?
One of the talking points of England’s win over Denmark was the clear advantage England had over the Danes. With over 58,034 of the supporters at the game being England fans compared to the Danes 1,966, UEFA have decided that they want to remove home advantage away from England. According to UEFA’s Fair Play officials Stan Dupp and Fumagalli Enzo, switching the Euro 2020 finals from Wembley to Bedford means Italy can also benefit from playing on home soil at the same time as England.
Can Meadow Lane host 60,000 plus fans?
Absolutely not. But that is not a problem as Bedford High street will be pedestrianised and large screens will be erected all the way down to the embankment.
Ahead of the clash, England fans heading to Bedford have been advised to brush up on their Italian so we have created a ‘Nine step guide to speaking Italian’ below. These are probably the only nine words you will need to know for the game.
Nine steps to speaking Italian