Monday, 6 February 2012


Guest blogger Jane Wynn of Wildheart gives us her opinion on the Mary Portas review.

In December 2011, Mary Portas (dubbed by some “Minister for Shops”) published ‘The Portas
Review’, a 55 page report which is summarised in 28 key recommendations. A mixed bag of
suggestions, some which are basic common sense like making better use of empty units, and
some which may cause a few ruffled feathers in certain places, in particular regarding betting
shops and out of town shopping centres.

I was saddened but not surprised to see that in the media interest following this publication
that Rochdale was featured. I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life there and have
been a regular visitor over the years so know the place quite well. I have memories of the old
covered market and can recall the building of the first new shopping centre that replaced it. The
old development was a lovely place, which included an arcade of small shop units, full of lively,
interesting independent traders. One I remember in particular, called ‘Duggies’, sold all kinds of
everything and was a family business which included his wife and the banter between these two
was often rich and hilarious. The building of the first shopping centre at the bottom of Yorkshire
St (the main shopping thoroughfare) started a ripple effect of new development along that street,
seeing many of smaller traders in the area crushed out of being and replaced with more retail
chains. People celebrated when the Body Shop opened up in Rochdale - this reaction only
eclipsed by the public outcry when McDonalds decided to close its town centre unit last year.

I used to live in the Midlands and got to know Birmingham’s shopping areas quite well.
Birmingham used to have a fantastic little shopping mecca, known as the Oasis, in the city centre
underneath one of the markets. Accessed by dimly lit stairways, the basement was full of small
retail units, jostling and often overflowing into each other, where rock fans, punks, Goths, et
al, could find everything they could ever need to satisfy their hunger for the alternative. All run
by small independent traders, many of them makers and designers, it wasn’t just the things to
buy that brought us in week after week, it was their knowledge and passion for their market and
products that made it a great place to shop. The place was refurbished many years ago, with the
higher rates meaning that many of the smaller traders couldn’t afford it anymore and they sadly

I think the Portas Review makes many good points when it comes to sole traders, small
businesses and markets, if managed with a view to the traders and their customer base. The right
kind of independent shops will bring the people back and go a long way to help revitalise our city
centres. In many cases, they’re supporting local people in their own business which will have a
big impact on the local economy. For some, it’s giving new designers and makers an opportunity
to launch themselves on the market and start building a customer base. My memories and
personal experience tell me that shopping with independent traders is a much more rewarding
experience for customers, often having that personal touch that is missing in the homogenised
atmosphere of some of big shops. There may be larger shopping centres available to us now but I
feel choices have become increasingly limited over the years, with the same formula and products
rolled out by retail chains over countless high streets across the UK. It’s all getting a bit too 1984-
ish for my liking and, unless we really do want a proletariat society, something needs to be done
before it’s too late.

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