Letchworth town centre manager Tom Hardy muses on how online shopping and craft culture have changed what town centres offer

Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy talks all things garden city in his weekly Comet column.

Letchworth BID manager Tom Hardy talks all things garden city in his weekly Comet column. - Credit: Archant

I myself have been guilty of standing in a shop deciding whether it’s cheaper to buy an item on sites such as Amazon, Shpock or eBay.

It got me thinking about the recent We Buy Any Car marketing campaign, which has asked: do you value your time enough to accept less money for your car?

It’s an interesting concept and one that evokes the question of whether you value and love your town centre enough to shop there and not online.

You may not be able to get everything in our town that you would online, but Letchworth town centre has a lot more to offer than people give it credit for.

A wide range of reasons such as shopping attitudes, general perceptions of our town and online convenience have meant that the Letchworth BID and local retailers have had to work harder than ever to change people’s minds back to the high street.

People are always coming to me with their own opinions on the town, what it’s missing, what it should have more of and what it was like in ‘the good old days’.

The fact is, for better or for worse, town centres are changing. The increase in online shopping has dramatically changed our public realms, with fewer people making the journey into town centres to do retail shopping and spend money.

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However, in Letchworth, retail is complementing the rise of restaurants, eateries and coffee shops, coupled with increases in service industries such as hairdressers, estate agents and dry cleaners.

The UK’s craft beer and coffee culture has certainly had an impact on our town. More and more shops are having the vintage, Shoreditch-look refit with tattooed brewers, mixologists and barristers serving everything from craft beers, cocktails to fresh coffee among broken tiles, scaffolding boards and filament lighting.

People seem to love it and these types of shops are getting busier day by day viewing Letchworth town centre as a fresh new place to socialise.

This seems to work well for retailers – and means that when visitors come into the town for a coffee or to use a service, they will also spend some time looking around the retail outlets.

I’ve spent the last 18 months managing the Business Improvement District – the BID, or Love Letchworth – trying to make a positive difference in the town.

As you can probably tell, I’m a pretty big fan of my town and I’m determined to change negative perceptions, improve the offer, and increase footfall.

The offer has certainly changed! I could talk for hours on the fantastic shops we have in the town, new and well-established. But instead I urge you to re-discover Letchworth Garden City town centre, revisit and be surprised at what we have to offer.

For more information please visit loveletchworth.com or contact bid@loveletchworth.com.