So this is me. And this first blog post is about my self-imposed challenge to buy as many of my Christmas presents as possible in Letchworth this year.

I should introduce myself to those who don’t know me. I’m Camilla Hamilton, I’m 35, married with two children (a boy and a girl of 4 and 2 respectively) and I live in Letchworth. Maybe at some point soon I will write something more about myself on my website camillahamilton.com (don’t bother looking, there isn’t anything there now!). It probably would be relevant to my take on all this, but that is enough for now.

So, why the challenge?
In a nutshell, I care a lot about Letchworth. I think it has such a huge amount of potential, and it already has a lot of great assets. But its town centre is, I’m sad to say, not one of them. I suspect most of us, even those who are working tirelessly to improve it (of which there are quite a few), would probably agree.This is a national problem, of course. The internet, out of town shopping, the explosion of consumer product choice and changing family and working lifestyles, not to mention the recession, are all working against the high street at the moment. It needs to change, probably very significantly. But a well-supported town centre will be much more ready to respond creatively to these challenges.
What difference can I make?
Since I moved to Letchworth 5 years ago I have been thinking about how the town centre could be improved. There have been a number of interventions and initiatives, many ongoing, These are all valuable, and I have other ideas I think could help too.The thing is, my family and I visit the Town Centre every Saturday morning, almost without fail. My lightbulb moment was when I really stopped to think about how much money I actually spend there, especially as a proportion of our total discretionary spend. It’s pocket money, really.How can I expect a vibrant town centre if I don’t make more effort to spend my money there now? Because without this inflow of cash from customers, retailers have nothing to use to invest in new and better stock, new signs, new staff or anything which makes for a better shopping experience for us. And established retailers will not come without increased footfall or significant financial sweeteners from landlords.

But all of us need to buy things. If we choose to buy them in Letchworth rather than elsewhere, we are investing in our town rather than letting it falter. Preventing the flows of cash out of our local area which lead to our quiet streets, empty shops and ultimately the threaten community “buzz” which is, still, is a big part of Letchworth.

So the Christmas list is a small start. One Christmas, one person. I am excited about where this might lead. Plus I’ve seen some great present ideas already. But that is all for another post….

Meanwhile, for more on the theory I’ve mentioned, take a look at http://www.pluggingtheleaks.org/


Comments

Letchworth Christmas List Challenge — 8 Comments

  1. I bought some great second hand books in David’s Bookshop and a fancy birthday card, too.
    But I could not get the music CD I wanted. – Everything is so old-fashioned here!
    In another shop I ordered an item of clothing – for a birthday. I went in a few times – do you think shopkeepers made an effort to get the item in time? No. They did not.
    I tried to get a fancy skin cream in a shop – I have used this cream for ages. I went into the shop – three times! – over three weeks. Do you think they ordered it? No. I bought the cream when I was in Cambridge.-
    I try to buy products locally. But shopkeepers did not offer me – for instance – a free delivery – and I did spent a LOT of money in one shop.
    Shopkeepers here don’t seem to care. Maybe they just treat people well who they know for many years? Maybe they should brush up their skills?
    Apart from the great bunch of new young fantastic shops in the Wynd – especially older shopkeepers are completely out of touch. – And hey, have they ever thought of dressing their windows in a nicer way?

    • Hi S
      Thanks very much for your comments. I can really relate to what you say here. I don’t want to be too critical of the independent shops here and I know life for them can be tough but I 100% agree that there are a number of areas in which they could really improve their customer service. Online businesses are often very good at courting customers, through offers, great looking advertising, free returns and delivery etc etc. You don’t have to meet people face-to-face to offer great service actually and our local independents have to find ways their own ways of stepping up to compete. I’m aiming to write a post on this topic soon and I’d love to find a way of feeding back this sort of “customer voice” info to our shopkeepers in a way that is constructive and not spirit-crushing – it’s a tricky one to get right I think.

  2. Thought I should also add some of the comments I’ve had elsewhere on this. Many from other shoppers recommending particular places in Letchworth – in the Arcade: Annie’s Emporium (Chocolates and Sweets), Orga (Bespoke Jewellery) and The Jewellery Box (Jewellery), and my own suggestion in the Wynd: Earth Sense where they currently have some beautiful, unusual and reasonably priced large bowls. I’ll be devoting a blog post soon to my favourite finds and also really welcome honest feedback on what’s out there (good or bad) so keep reading and keep your comments coming please!

  3. ‘Shopping’ is more than just buying an item. ‘For me ‘perfect shopping’ is a sensual experience, a discovery of new products and exciting things, plus a coffee or two and a chat with a friend and meeting new friends.

    ‘Perfect shopping’ includes a stroll around town and ‘window shopping’. – Of course ‘window shopping’ also means that you might buy things you never knew you wanted – needed – – small things -not expensive – but it is great fun.
    And there is always the cup of coffee, and the chocolate bun…

    Ever strolled down Upper Street in Islington?
    – Or walked along New Bond Street and just enjoyed arty window displays and the Xmas lights?
    Or pushed through the crowds in East London Walthamstow High Street and picked up bargains on the market and the stalls? Meeting, mixing, mingling… with the world.

    I had a friend from London here and she LOVED the Wynd.
    She LOVED the Arcade
    And we also popped into a lovely Lingerie shop – a perfect shop in my book!
    BTW Camilla – can you put the links for the recommended shops into your blog?
    Maybe other readers could write a short piece why they love a specific shop and why.
    Here is the link to Wild Roses Lingerie shop http://www.wildroseslingerie.co.uk/

  4. Great blogspost – thanks for the link!
    I agree. Chat to your customers and be nice to them. It is really important. – WE CUSTOMERS WANT TO BE LOYAL but, hey, shopkeepers make it a bit difficult for us –
    And here is a link which might help 😉 http://www.wikihow.com/Smile

  5. Hi Camilla, just wanted to check how you were doing on the shopping front. Thinking that other people are really trying to shop locally is a real incentive for me to do the same. If we know we are not the only ones, we feel it can make a difference.
    I have started asking shop if they can order an item for me when I can’t find it in their shop instead of getting it online and it is not something I used to do.
    Waiting for an update….. Good luck!

  6. I discovered another really friendly shop in Letchworth Garden City the other day:
    – Baker Brothers (the Jewellers) in 15 Leys Avenue.
    – No, I did not buy diamonds. – My watch strap needed TLC – and they were lovely in the shop – and it was good value too!