Against a backdrop of tough times for suburban retailers, Cillian O’Brien visited a street in Sutton Coldfield where shops are reporting strong trade.
Dilapidated high streets filled with empty shops have become a common scene across the region, but one Birmingham suburb appears to be bucking the trend with old-fashioned independent businesses.
Boldmere Road, in Sutton Coldfield, is a rare sight, a renaissance of local shopping.
The high street, which stretches from Jockey Road in the north to Chester Road in the south, has had its battles too.
Fierce opposition from residents against the proliferation of take-aways earned the area the moniker “Baltimere”, which prompted Birmingham City Council to modify its planning process for high streets when taking applications from fast food outlets.
Now 50 local traders, out of the 89 independents on the street, have come together to form Boldmere Traders Association and put in a bid for £100,000 of funding from the Portas Pilot scheme.
The association claims there are just two vacant shops on the road, well below the West Midlands and UK average of 14.6 per cent.
The council said the vacancy rate was slightly higher at 10 per cent.
Martin Pedley is owner of Edge Menswear and chairman of BTA.
He said: “Six months ago a number of us felt we should rekindle the spirit and encourage local residents to shop more locally.
“We have now got a bit of muscle to negotiate better terms and conditions.
“We don’t want people to go into the city. Mary Portas has tried to revitalise the spirit of shopping locally to make everyone aware that if you do not look after the high street it will disappear.
“The local councillors talk to us and get things done – things like increased waste bins and flower displays. The majority of the pavement is going to be improved.
“We offer something different and unique that the city cannot offer.”
The road is one of eight Birmingham shopping areas to have made bids to become “Portas Pilots”, following the Government-backed Mary Portas Review of high streets in December last year.
The Blooming Boldmere Partnership, backed by the traders association, wants to set up an “incubator unit” in an empty shop for small retailers to get started.
A total of 12 high streets around the UK will be selected and share grants from a £1 million cash pot.
Eleven councils across the West Midlands, including Birmingham, will receive £100,000 each in grants under the High Street Innovation Fund, also in response to the Portas Review.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said the funding could support new business start-ups while bringing empty high street properties back into use.
The Deli in Boldmere moved to the area nine months ago and is run by Pippa Goode and Chris Bishop.
Ms Goode put together Boldmere’s Portas Pilot bid.
She said: “We had to get a town team together including the traders, letting agents, landlords and the local community.
“Our bid was around wanting to keep diversity and the independent shops alive and kicking, to attract new business and entrepreneurs.
“We came up with the tag line ‘independently yours’. It is the blandness of the high street that I kick against, they sort of become one homogenous lump.
“Sainsbury’s has moved in and Tesco could move in.
“I did a survey for the Portas Pilot and people value the sense of the community. There is a bit of a kickback to that.