Despite the weather this has felt like the start of spring, with the cautious reopening of shops and pubs inspiring analogies with flowers re-emerging after the winter. Certainly the many thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on normal activity in the retail and hospitality sectors will hope this is indeed the start of summer after a long and painful period.
The first signs were good. I was at the McArthur Glen Outlet on Monday, and the numbers there were 40% up on the same day two years ago, even though it was freezing. I was struck by how many families were there together, clearly making a day out of it.
Although the news is good in the short term, and I am sure that morale is rising among those who work in retail, the long-term difficulties still exist. Ashford’s John Lewis store is one of those not coming back, and the fact that so many more people have become used to online shopping will be another factor affecting visits to actual physical shops.
The strategy for the town centres in Ashford and Tenterden must be to mix shops which are themselves destinations, particularly unique local offerings, with a greater number of people living very near so they can walk to the centre.
It is clearly possible to create destinations. Even after the year we have had you will have read that most of Elwick Place will be open once lockdown is fully ended, with an extended Macknade’s and some new restaurants opening. People still believe that there is a demand for social life.
The next big date we can look forward to is May 17th, when all being well with Covid numbers, we take another big step back to normality with the opening of indoor hospitality. I will certainly drink to that.