Sector trends

Totally Locally: revitalising Britain’s high streets

A national campaign supported by Visa has set out to keep the high streets alive by encouraging customers to support and spend at local retailers.

Britain's high streets

Totally Locally – which now counts almost 60 UK towns as participants, not to mention affiliates in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand – was set up a decade ago by marketing and branding expert Chris Sands, who runs consultancy firm The Good Company.

“I live in Calderdale in West Yorkshire and 10 years ago the council asked me to develop a ‘shop local’ campaign,” explains Sands. “Our simple message was that if you support the businesses in your town, your town gets better. 

“People told us they would love to shop locally, but at the same time they needed to go to the supermarket. So, I came up with the idea of encouraging people to spend just £5 a week in their local independent shops.”

The campaign pointed out that if everyone in Calderdale spent £5 each week in their local high streets, it would be worth an extra £40m to the area’s economy a year, Sands adds. “For example, there is a deli down the road from where I live that has 20 local suppliers. And those companies have a lot of local suppliers as well. If you spend money online, it won’t benefit your area. But local spending creates vibrant local economies.”

Helping high streets thrive

This concept underpins Totally Locally’s Fiver Fest campaign that runs for a fortnight from 10 October. Fiver Fest, which is supported by payments firm Visa, encourages participating businesses to run special £5 offers with the aim of driving footfall to local high streets.

To coincide with the campaign, Visa has published new research showing that three quarters of shoppers (76%) believe local high streets need support. To that end, 80% say they are buying from local businesses more frequently following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Dominic White, head of merchants and acquirers at Visa, says: “We know that 2020 has been exceptionally challenging for small businesses, so we’re doubling down on our commitment of support. Visa is proud to work with Totally Locally in its mission to bring communities together. And we encourage all small businesses to sign up to Fiver Fest. The next three months will be such an important period for small businesses. We are urging the nation to back the spirit of Fiver Fest and shop local, either online or offline, to help communities recover.”

Sands adds: “It may not feel like a big contribution. But that’s why we say just diverting £5 a week to small businesses will make a huge difference. If we all make this small change in our spending habits, it will go a long way to reviving our communities.”

The power of free, mutual support

Totally Locally is all the more remarkable for the fact that for much of the past decade Sands has effectively run the campaign on a pro-bono basis. “After we set the campaign up in Calderdale, my business partner suggested putting the resources online free of charge,” he says. “So I made it into a toolkit, a step-by-step guide of how you regenerate your high street. As we had no resources, I had to make it as lean as possible. But it has just grown and grown.”

Totally Locally participants from across the UK provide support and advice to each other on a Facebook group. “It has become a real, mutual-support network and people have become friends across the country,” he adds. “It is purely about being nice and helping each other.”

It may not feel like a big contribution. But diverting £5 a week to small businesses will make a huge difference. It will go a long way to reviving our communities

Chris Sands
Branding expert of The Good Company

One of the early success stories was Leek in Staffordshire. “It was known in some quarters as ‘Bleak Leek’,” says Sands. “But a group of shopkeepers and volunteers used the Totally Locally resources and it is now a vibrant, blooming little town. The high-street vacancy rate has fallen from about 15% to 4%, and people come from other areas to see how they have done it. The team has gone on to do lots of other things that have had a huge impact on the town.

“It’s all about the power of the collective: if you do something on your own, chances are no one is going to notice. But if you can work together, you have much more chance of success and you can make your town worth visiting.”

Building your online presence

Totally Locally’s latest initiative is to help local high streets fight back against online stores with an e-commerce toolkit. Gemma Collins, local enterprise manager at NatWest, explains: “Clearly, 2020 has seen an acceleration of the trend to shopping online because of the coronavirus crisis. But the beauty of the Totally Locally e-commerce scheme means that even retailers who weren’t online can now take advantage and get on board.

“Before I joined NatWest, I led a hyperlocal media project, which was focused on supporting independent businesses and town centres. In 2012, I was a speaker at a town centres conference in Halifax, and it was there I met Chris Sands of Totally Locally. I was inspired by the concept, and we worked together on various ideas until I moved on from that role. Now my role with NatWest involves supporting small businesses, so I’m thrilled to see Totally Locally going from strength to strength with initiatives such as Fiver Fest and its ‘Local Independent High Streets Online’ project.”

The scheme aims to get entire high streets online with a single point of entry, so local shoppers can continue to support retailers in their area even when buying over the internet.

Collins adds: “Ultimately, the goal of Totally Locally is to increase footfall – both on the high street and online. It will give people a timely reminder of what local shops bring to the community and how important it is to help them weather this storm and thrive in the future.”

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