SHOP owners and town councillors have hatched a plan to ensure the success and longevity of Malmesbury's shopping and hospitality sector. 

The town centre's key stakeholders attended a workshop led by retail guru Graham Soult to talk about the future of the High Street on Monday, September 18.

Mr Soult is a consultant and regular columnist with Retail Week with a reputation as a high-street champion and marketing expert.

He lives in Gateshead and is a regular visitor to Malmesbury so was invited talk to shop owners and councillors by town mayor Cllr Gavin Grant.

The mayor knew of Mr Soult's reputation for helping towns such as Durham and Chester Le Street build their retail and hospitality offering and thought he could give some helpful direction to Malmesbury High Street's key stakeholders.

At the workshop Mr Soult said: “High streets and the way we buy as consumers are always changing – we only have to compare the 1970s with now. 

"People can find the current pace of change very disorientating.
“I do not subscribe to the narrative that we’re seeing the death of the High Street at all.

"In Durham around 80 per cent of independent retailers began trading since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I know you have many great new shops, pubs and restaurants in Malmesbury too.”

He encouraged those attending the workshop to ignore the things they cannot change, such as the growth of online shopping and the cost-of-living crisis.

Instead he suggested local businesses focus on what they can change for example, being more collaborative, holding events to pull people in, creating a strategy to deal with empty shops and ensuring visiting shop is as accessible as possible. 

At the end of the session, attending business owners came up with various ways to improve the High Street in Malmesbury.

Many pinpointed the need to offer a personal and friendly service, to provide excellent products, to work more closely with each other to promote success and to review opening hours based on data around footfall and visitor patterns.
Retailers who attended the workshop included Victoria Parry (from The Cake Tin), Emily Hepworth (from Persephone Violet), Kalya James (from Jackdaw Coffee House and Malmesbury Roost), David and Karen Drake (from Caerbladon), Mark Jones (from Fielder & Jones) and Marianne Hofstra (from The Kings Arms). 
Malmesbury Town Council agreed to have an even more open dialogue with the local retail and hospitality community, listening to their concerns and making changes where possible. 
Graham Soult will now provide an impact report to Malmesbury Town Council to encourage everyone to take appropriate short-term action – and then work behind the scenes on more long-term challenges. 

Town mayor Cllr Grant said: “Ours is a great town with a terrific High Street and town centre.

"We want to keep it that way. 

"So, it was fantastic to have a nationally recognised expert take time with us and for our local business community to respond so positively to the session. 

"I know he was very impressed by the partnerships that already exist and the key projects we have identified for action.

"We are all eager to read and share his report and get to work together on the action plan.”