Durham high street’s plight is not as bad as has been portrayed across national and local press – an erroneous graphic published originally by the BBC has been shared widely and replicated. The graphic reported that Durham lost 43 high street shops in the first half of 2020, positioning it as the second worst high street in the UK in terms of net shop closures.
The corrected graphic, reporting closures in Durham as 21, puts the city as fourth worst in the UK, behind York, Newcastle Upon Tyne and Worcester.
However, city centre businesses say that even the corrected number does not truly reflect Durham’s high street. The data was supplied by the Local Data Company and accountancy firm PwC, and incorporates shops, hospitality chains and services including post offices and banks but excludes small independent businesses.
Durham Market Hall is home to 40 independent businesses. Colin Wilkes, Managing Director of Durham Markets Company, commented: “We’re not trying to pretend that it isn’t an extremely difficult time for the high street, but we are sensing a change in attitudes amongst customers. During lockdown, small independent businesses were going the extra mile for the customers, quickly converting to delivery businesses, and working hard to make sure people locked down at home could be provided for. And now, those customers are keen to continue supporting those very businesses. Additionally, we’re seeing that outdoor markets, in the fresh air, do have an added appeal for shoppers.
“Independent businesses have fought to stay afloat in the last six months and continue to fight as the uncertainty goes on. Those businesses are a huge asset to the city going forward; not only do they create a retail district that is different from any other city, but all profits stay right here in the local economy.”
Retail Consultant Graham Soult, who launched the Indie Durham City campaign with City of Durham Parish Council earlier this year, added: “Lockdown has had a definite impact on people’s shopping habits, and alongside the growth in online, the ‘shop local’ narrative has strengthened. It’s a shame that this data, even without the erroneous graphic, made no reference to the positive impact of independents in the retail landscape.
“There continues to be interest from companies looking to take retail space in Durham, and a city full of independents working hard to attract people to shop safely in the city. Whilst the city centre streets do have some vacancies following the departure mainly of national brands, it’s not a reason to be despondent, but rather a reason to build on the city’s strengths with an attractive and unique retail offer, alongside a growing mix of leisure, culture and other uses.”