Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

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IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

At least, as far as retailers are concerned.

There are still 37 shopping days to go until the big day but the battle has begun among big businesses with multimillion pound advertising drives hitting our TV screens.

In keeping with tradition, the classic “holidays are coming” campaign from Coca-Cola set the ball rolling.

Marks and Spencer followed suit with a family-focused commercial as did Tesco.

And Waitrose adopted a no-frills approach with a budget ad – the cutback providing the store with an extra £1 million to donate to charity.

Asda decided to feature a harassed mother preparing for Christmas Day.

But its campaign managed to provoke the wrath of the PC brigade who deemed it sexist. Personally I think it pretty much summed-up Christmas in my household but nevertheless it is now being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

As usual, of all the big names brands, the one to get it spot-on is John Lewis.

The retailer, which did not advertise on television until 2007, has earned a reputation for creating memorable campaigns.

It’s 2010’s “Always A Woman” ad moved viewers to tears and it was hard not to fall head-over-heels in love with last year’s tale of a boy desperately waiting for the big day so he could give a present to his parents.

This year the store is banking on a lovestruck snowman to work its magic.

The ad opens in a snow-covered garden, with children making a snowman and snowlady.

But when the snowman disappears the next morning, the viewer is transported to a magical world, following him on an epic journey through rivers and over mountains before he finally reaches the M1 and makes his way to the London flagship store.

He returns on Christmas morning and in the last scene we see him present gifts to his snowlady love.

Yes, the commercial made me sigh with delight, but part of my happiness was the fact that while a visit to John Lewis was an exhausting mission for poor Mr Snowman from his home in the depths of the countryside, it is no longer such a gargantuan effort for me.

It’s been something I have eagerly anticipated since I moved from the capital to Suffolk eight months ago.

And last week, my Christmas wish came true and the retailer opened a store on the former Cranes industrial site.

I admit I am slightly disappointed that it is lacking a clothing department but nevertheless, the aisles of homeware are sure to keep me busy.

And I am hoping the opening of the store will encourage other big name brands into the rest of Ipswich which, if you ask me, is in dire need of a facelift.

This is a town centre bursting with character, with beautiful architecture and enough retail units to go round. And yet it is nowhere near as exciting a place to shop as nearby Cambridge or Norwich.

Why?

Well, according to Ipswich Borough Council’s Masterplan, compiled in May this year, it needs enhancing, remodeling and redeveloping.

It could do with more cafes, an improved open-air marketplace, better, cheaper car parking, more pedestrian walkways and a family-friendly selection of eateries.

The Masterplan is intended to be implemented over a 15-year period ending in 2027 but in order for it to be a success, Ipswich needs a huge injection of cash.

Earlier this year Sir Stuart Rose, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer who lives near Ipswich, offered his input into revitalising the town centre which he described as “depressing”.

“Give me about £200,000 and I could transform it,” he said.

He then proposed to move the market off Cornhill to keep it as an open space – a scheme met with a backlash from market traders.

Clearly there is no quick – or indeed cheap - fix here. And I certainly can’t pretend to have the answers.

All I know is that many of the people I have met since moving here have told me they rarely set foot into Ipswich Town Centre and usually choose to shop online.

Figures released earlier this year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that Britons are now the biggest online shoppers in the developed world.

An amazing six out of 10 British adults now use the internet to buy products such as food, clothing, music or holidays - twice the average of countries to include the US, Germany, Australia and France.

We are seduced by how impressive it is, how fast, how addictive, how useful.

But maybe, as a result of our love of the internet, we only have ourselves to blame for the death of the high street.

And something really needs to be done about that.

After all, who wants a shopping street made up of a patchwork of charity shops and boarded-up fronts?

Luckily Ipswich Town Centre is a long way from such a miserable outcome and it still boasts some little gems where you can buy things you simply can’t find on your home computer.

But everybody needs to do their bit to stop it turning into a ghost town.

So this Christmas I have decided not to carry out an online splurge and instead, shop locally.

If indeed England was once a nation of shopkeepers, perhaps with a little help from us all, it will be again.

Email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com of find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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