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.
Indulgent break for gin lovers at De Vere Latimer Estate
Let the fun be-gin at De Vere Latimer Estate, set in the heart of Buckinghamshire in the Chess Valley, with their indulgent gin lovers break priced from £185 per room*. The gin package includes an overnight stay with a £26 dinner voucher per guest and a gin cocktail each, followed by breakfast the following morning.
Relax with a complimentary G&T in the hotel’s Huntley Bar, a cosy bar which offers views across the estate’s gardens and sweeping views of the Chiltern Hills. During their stay, guests can also opt to visit the nearby Griffiths Brothers Gin distillery, located just 15 minutes away, for a tour of the distillery with tastings to be enjoyed along the way and to learn how Griffiths Brothers Gins are produced.
Spend the evening in 1838 Restaurant & Bar which celebrates classic British dishes where you’ll discover locally sourced, seasonally inspired menus with dishes including lemon & herb marinated pork tenderloin; Casterbridge 28 days dry aged 8oz Sirloin steak; grilled fillet of sustainable sea bream; and rigatoni alla parmigiana. As part of the package, guests will have up to £52 to spend between them in the restaurant during their stay.
De Vere Latimer Estate, located in the Chess Valley in Buckinghamshire, has plenty of activities on the doorstep. Why not borrow a pair of Hunter wellies and explore the beautiful 10-mile Chess Valley Walk on the hotel’s doorstep to discover a wealth of wildlife, historic buildings, water meadows and nature reserves.
Afterwards, guests can head back to the hotel where they can opt for some R&R in the pool, sauna and steam room or, enjoy a board game in The Library – a secluded spot ideal for relaxing with a drink in hand or indulging in a delicious afternoon tea.
Outdoor culture comes to Waddesdon Manor for late summer
This summer, open-air cinema screenings, picnic theatre and a food festival will come to Waddesdon Manor for some fantastic seasonal culture in the outdoors.
The Luna Cinema will pitch up in the grounds and screen four blockbuster films, with the 19th-century chateau serving as a picturesque backdrop. After arriving via a path lit with festoon lighting, visitors can enjoy the full service of the on-site Luna bar for refreshments and food.
Champagne may be the apt choice on the first night with Baz Luhrman’s spectacular take on The Great Gatsby (Wed 13 Sept) starring Leonardo Di Caprio. While the director’s latest, the Oscar-nominated biopic Elvis (Thurs 14 Sept), follows on the following day to fill the garden setting with Presley’s signature rock and roll. Then a modern classic, as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Fri 15 Sept), the film that kicked off one of the biggest film series of all time, will make Friday evening a nostalgic start to the weekend. The final screening will be the smash-hit of last year Top Gun: Maverick (Sat 16 Sept), starring Tom Cruise and widely cited as a saviour of big-screen cinema.
At the end of August, visitors will be transported back to Elizabethan times with the open-air production of Romeo and Juliet (Thurs 24 Aug) by the internationally-acclaimed The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the UK’s premier all-male company. It will be a unique opportunity to watch the traditional performance in the atmospheric grounds of one the UK’s most beautiful settings. Alongside Elizabethan dress, music and dances, and with the all-male cast, guests can watch the tragedy in a similar manner to how Shakespeare’s original tale would’ve been viewed by the public, except with the extra comfort of enjoying your own picnic in the garden.
If you cannot wait for the second half of summer to see some Shakespeare, then the Unbound Theatre company will have you covered with their free picnic performance of the comedy Much Ado About Nothing (Sun 23 July)at 2pm. They will also return for another free performance of their original play Gertrude & Dorothy (Sun 20 Aug), a crime caper throwing together the noted horticulturalist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, and Britain’s first racing driver Dorothy Levitt, for three separate showings throughout the day.
Adding to the summer heat will be Chilli Fest (Fri 1 – Sun 3 Sept) a weekend festival featuring handpicked exhibitors, all passionate about chilli, bringing the best of local artisan condiments, sauces, and chutneys to the Manor grounds. Around 70 stalls will offer up the taste of some of the most delicious chilli-food from the UK, so you can pitch up with a picnic in the sunny grounds to enjoy for the day, and then choose your favourite condiments to take home. There will also be a range of bars and distilleries, offering everything from local vineyards to flavoursome cocktails, making the perfect refreshments after a walk in the gardens. Along with live music and activities for young ones, and with a special late-night opening on Saturday, Chilli Fest is the perfect way to enjoy the last of the summer sunshine.
Of course, if you want to escape the sun for a while, Waddesdon Manor’s impressive permanent collection will be available inside. For first-time visitors or regular guests, there’s plenty to see and enjoy, including the newly restored Musical elephant automaton, the rare Sèvres pot-pourri vase, and works by Guardi, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Watteau.
Alongside the entire summer programme, which includes more theatre shows suitable for the whole family, Waddesdon Manor is set to be the perfect late summer outing for friend meetups, evening drinks, and relaxed afternoon picnics, enjoying the most exciting culture of cinema, theatre and food in a glorious summer setting.
There are limited places available for the events mentioned above, please visit the Waddesdon Manor summer holidays webpage to book and not miss out.
Wicksteed Park’s Garden Wheel Shortlisted for Best new Ride Award
Wicksteed Park’s Garden Wheel has been shortlisted for the Best New Ride at the UK Theme Park Awards.
The Northamptonshire attraction’s historic Water Chute was also nominated for the Best Water Ride and the Park received a third nomination as the Best Theme Park with Animals.
Now in its fourth year, the awards give the British public the chance to vote for their favourite theme parks in national awards recognising the best new rides and attractions, shows and events. Voting will open on 22nd July at ukthemeparkawards.com.
“We’re delighted to have been nominated in three different categories and it’s obviously particularly exciting to be shortlisted with the Garden Wheel for the best new ride,” said Wicksteed Park’s Carly Redington.
“We are up against some stiff competition with the likes of Legoland Windsor and Thorpe Park but it’s great to get recognition for our ongoing investment programme in the park alongside one of our heritage rides,” she added.
Opened in May, the 25-metre-tall Garden Wheel features 18 gondolas and provides stunning views out across the Kettering attraction and the surrounding countryside. The Ferris wheel, which can accommodate up to 72 passengers, is situated at the top end of the park and is included in the price of a wristband.
Alongside Wicksteed Park other major contenders for the awards include Alton Towers and Drayton Manor in Staffordshire, Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey, LEGOLAND Windsor in Berkshire and Paultons Park in Hampshire.
There are 22 categories this year, including Theme Park of the Year, Best New Attraction, Best Customer Service and Best Value. New categories include Best Reimagined Attraction, Best Theme Park with Animals and Best Themed Coaster.
In advance of the public vote, a shortlist has been compiled using public nominations and with the help of a panel of expert judges including Paul Kelly (Chief Executive of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions) and Andy Hine MBE (Chairman – Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain).
More than 25,000 nominations were received, with a total of 35 theme parks nominated for awards in 2023.
The Garden Wheel is part of an ongoing programme of investment in the Park which has included the launch of the new Galaxy Invaders ride, Meerkat Manor, Wicky Bear’s Theatre and Wicky’s Farmyard over the past two years.
Wicksteed Park provides a great value day out for all the family. Entry to the park is free. Ride and attraction tickets can either be purchased individually at £3 per person or alternatively day wristbands are available at £22 for unlimited access to all rides and attractions (with the exception of Wicky’s Play Factory).