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Virtual high streets in drive to encourage everyone to ‘shop local’

PUBLISHED: 11:42 28 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:16 28 October 2020

Ellie and Lee Bishop in their shop, Nell & Green Botanics in Sudbury, which they opened as the Covid-19 lockdown began. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Ellie and Lee Bishop in their shop, Nell & Green Botanics in Sudbury, which they opened as the Covid-19 lockdown began. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The coronavirus outbreak has affected Sudbury businesses across the town and now a ‘virtual high street’ has been created to help ensure access to its best-loved retailers.

Sudbury town centre. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSudbury town centre. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Many traders across the UK have devised innovative ways of reaching their customers through online services after suffering substantial losses through the Covid-19 lockdown.

Now, Sudbury Vision Group and town councillors have devised a way for customers to remain in contact with their nearby shops, at a time when most were forced to close due to the coronavirus crisis.

With over 50 businesses involved, the virtual high street lists stores, restaurants and cafes in the town - with a description of each and how to contact them if visiting in person proves difficult due to social isolation.

It is hoped the online resource will help and encourage consumers to ‘shop local’ in a bid to boost trading for independent stores.

Edward Townrow, managing director of department store Townrow in Sudbury. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYEdward Townrow, managing director of department store Townrow in Sudbury. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Retailers on the Sudbury Virtual High Street can use the platform to enhance their in-store offers by introducing services such as pre-order or click and collect with each store page personalised to include product listings, opening times, online purchasing and delivery bookings.

MORE: ‘Thriving’: 9 new shops open in town centre during coronavirus crisis

Businesses already signed up include deparment store Townrow, Jamie’s Meat Inn butchers, Weston’s Bakery, Asters clothing store, The Kiosk newstand and The Secret Garden cafe and restaurant.

Created as part of the Sudbury Vision partnership and supported by Babergh District Council (BDC), Michael Holt, BDC cabinet member for economic growth, said: “This year has been incredibly challenging for high streets up and down the county and we wanted to help our businesses to stay connected with the customers and reach a wider audience through the Virtual High Street.

Dr Peter Funnell. Picture: SUFFOLK CHAMBERDr Peter Funnell. Picture: SUFFOLK CHAMBER

“We want to encourage more people to visit Sudbury and enjoy the fantastic independent shops on offer.

“The Virtual High Street provides an opportunity for shoppers to see what is available and plan ahead before the visit.”

Dr Peter Funnell, chair of Suffolk Chamber in Central Suffolk, said: “Suffolk Chamber is delighted to support the Virtual High Street in Sudbury, an initiative designed to help local businesses reach their customers.

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“In the current context, it is important that we continue to encourage and support people, to shop local to boost local economies and ensure that businesses have a future on our high streets.”

As the site grows more services will be added such as activity and events listings and high street promotions - it is also hoped that the Virtual High Street will expand with more town centre high streets coming on board.

Rachel Price, town centre manager for Sudbury Town Council said: “Sudbury is a vibrant market town with a diverse mix of independent retailers, well known chain stores and of course our much loved twice weekly market.

“Our high street is full of personality and the past few months have reminded us how important that personal touch is and the value of supporting local.

“Our aim is to continue to support businesses through these difficult times as well as making it as convenient as possible to help residents discover and shop local.

“We know that some of our small businesses don’t have the resources to create their own online shop but with the Virtual High Street, they can simply sign up for free and benefit from building their online presence.”

MORE: Bakery has made ‘huge impact’ on community during Covid-19 crisis

Ellie Stock Bishop, the owner of Nell & Green Botanics on East Street, said: “Our new shop had only been open two days when the Government announced lockdown.

“We embraced the opportunity to invest in our online presence, build our e-commerce platform, free local delivery service and build our social media – we wanted to get our name out there.”

“The online response was incredible, as was the demand in our delivery service. Being included in Sudbury’s Virtual High Street also drove custom our way so we were grateful to be promoted on this free platform.”

Sarah Underhay, owner of Duck in Boots, said: “We are very excited to be featured in the virtual high street.

“It’s an excellent concept providing businesses with an online presence at this challenging time and will be a great resource for visitors to get a feeling of what our fabulous town has to offer.”

Find out more about the Virtual High Street by clicking here.


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