In his regular column for the Hereford Times, Mike Truelove, chief executive of Hereford BID, the organisation that supports town centre business, says gloom about the future of the high street is misplaced

NEWS of the death of Hereford high street has been greatly exaggerated!

Okay, I have gone for a dramatic first line to get your attention, but in all seriousness, it is true – and I will tell you why. 

The High Street is changing – we all know that, and the daily news on television keeps telling us how bad it is for shops.

But while the likes of Amazon and other shopping online channels grow and grow, what they can never replace is the human need to go into the community, touch and see products and enjoy the communal feeling of experiencing something together – be that with friends, family or alone as an observer of others around us.

All these things have been brought into sharp focus when you have been cooped up at home and desperate to get out for much of the year. 

Hereford is well placed to benefit from the impending boom once restrictions ease.

We are truly unique as a destination, being small and compact, flat and easy to navigate, and steeped in history and charm.

We have the advantage of being a stone’s throw away from county attractions – many of which are scenic such as canoeing on the Wye, glamping or camping – and more food and drink attractions that you can count, not to mention Hereford’s own offering.

So what? you might say, it is far tougher out there than it has ever been before.

It is. But shopping is changing in many ways. We are in an era of the staycation – Hereford has never capitalised properly on this, but work is afoot to change things with the Local Enterprise Partnership's £440,000 grant to boost our story.

And not before time. We sorely need to sort our ‘shop window’ when presenting the region.

Further, it is possible to capitalise on the trend for offices and individuals to move away from expensive locations such as London, Birmingham, and Manchester.

Why suffer the daily grind when you can live in a beautiful county like Herefordshire that is offering in most areas a reasonable if not superfast speed of broadband (with a programme to roll out fibre in most parts) along with a slower lifestyle.

Further, shops that have suffered poor investment from landlords are now, in many areas, being converted into quality luxury flats – normally on the first floor and above, as people seek to move into a community that offers everything on their doorstep, as we are seeing in Hereford’s centre.

Our unique selling point is one we should all embrace and celebrate – we are rural, beautiful, spacious, and well-resourced with shops, including an abundance of independents that support that uniqueness.

This will, I believe, in combination with Hereford BID's and other stakeholders’ efforts, attract new visitors and help capitalise on the emerging trends mentioned.

There is a ‘but’, of course. Those shops that manage to survive this awful pandemic need to ensure they have stepped up to today’s consumer expectations – an ‘experience’ visit is often required where customers are probably known by name and kept up to date by a personal newsletter or social media, where the frontage has huge kerb appeal and is well presented and ‘welcoming’ and where customer service is far better than anything online.

In addition, partners with the power and influence must step up and ensure there is a plan or strategy and vision for Hereford.

This should include presenting the centre in a far better way than we have done to date, with trees and beautiful flowers and so on (it is no secret that the centre looks worst than it did 50 years ago).

The Government must also grasp the nettle of inequality with the imposition of high business rates where online shops face no such cost; it is literally strangling the life out of towns of which should it continue will inevitably mean forcing these taxes onto online shops anyway (the Government will need to get the money from somewhere).

All of this is possible to change, and a little frightening too, but times are changing and so are the opportunities they can bring.