The round-trip walk of Andover’s high street area on a cold Sunday morning was both bracing and surprising.
From our offices on the upper high street we walked the length of the high street area, including the old coaching inn twittens, Winchester Street, London Street and Bridge Street.
The walk was not a effort to test a human’s endurance in near freezing temperatures, but an effort to count the number of shops that have a discernible entrance from street level.
The results surprised us.
Take a listen to our abbreviated journey here:
Peeking into the old coaching inn stable areas such as George Yard and Waterloo Court, we set out to see if comments such as “Andover is dead” and “the town is littered with empty shops” are based in fact.
As our team of two tread the frosty pavement this morning, the results surprised us. As part of the study from local radio station 95.9FM Andover Radio, on route we spoke to Graham from River Way who said, “I think there must be almost a hundred shops in Andover”. Jean from Acre Court also told us, “I have no idea how many there are, maybe a hundred or so, but they are all betting shops and coffee shops”.
The number of shops in Andover’s high street area uncovered by Kevin Ridgeon and David Harber just may surprise you.
Our manual study today follows the news that Dorothy Perkins will be closing their store in Andover in March. A piece of news that prompted the Andover Advertiser to write, “As Andover moves into the digital era more and more shops are moving online leaving the town littered with empty shops and closing down signs.”
Dorothy Perkins is part of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group. A group that is closing their retail brands across the UK. In Andover this will also mean the probable loss of Top Shop and Evans.
Bethany Whittingham was the author of the story for the Basingstoke-based newspaper. She came under some criticism for her article which seemed to perpetuate the sense of doom in town.
Of her article on the newspaper’s website, Olly Wod commented, “Non factual sensationalist reporting like this doesn’t help either, this reporter needs to get off her proverbial and stop calling the kettle black, the Advertiser is the last one who should be shouting foul… I actually wonder if Bethany has ever set foot in the town.”
Maybe Bethany is correct, maybe Andover is dead and we should all pack up and go and live in a bigger, more (author coughs) ‘vibrant’ place, like Birmingham. We thought we should find out.
As we walked around the town we discovered that Union Street alone has 21 local businesses in operation. There are only two empty units; one of those – perhaps ironically – is the Andover Advertiser’s old office, before they removed themselves to Basingstoke.
As a point of reference, below is a photograph of Smallbrook Queensway (the road between New Street railway station, within 50 yards of the Bullring Shopping Centre). Birmingham has a population of 1.1 million.
We also thought we should try and substantiate or diffuse the claims (usually by keyboard warriors) that “Andover is full of coffee shops, betting shops and pound shops”.
According to the British Retail Consortium’s figures, the national average of high street vacancy is 10.3%. Across the UK, more than one in ten shops are closed.
We have no doubt missed some properties, but these are the businesses we saw and catalogued in a walk that took 45 minutes in total.
The walk did not take us into the Chantry Centre, not only because the work to entirely renovate the Chantry Centre is well publicised but also because security at the Centre are known to be ‘funny buggers’ when people arrive with cameras, notepads and microphones. As a property owned by Test Valley Borough Council, it is also a slightly different animal to the ‘realism of the high street’.
So, we counted and assessed businesses with a discernible, obvious outdoor entrance from high street areas:
|BARBERS/HAIR DRESSING SALONS||8|
|% of closed shops||9%|
The number of local owner-manager businesses, against the number of national brands open in town was also somewhat unexpected:
|% OF LOCAL BUSINESSES||68%|
We are not the only organisation to be surveying our high street. The Andover Masterplan survey has been open for many months. In June 2019 Hemingway Design were tasked with helping to shape the future for for Andover town centre. Working with NEW Masterplanning and Test Valley Borough Council, they said, “We are beginning a process that will help define Andover for generations to come.”
Town planner and company CEO Wayne Hemingway told Andover Radio, “In our survey, we are finding that the good people of Andover are pretty switched on to the way that town centres are going. We are not going back to a time of BHS and Woolworths. These are not coming back – and it’s not just because of the internet.
“Research shows that the internet has had an impact of between 12 and 14% on town centre vacancies and, as some people say, its decline.
“It is significant, but the biggest significance is a societal shift.
“It’s a shift in habit and what people want. We have ‘millennials’ and Generation Z’s who have grown up learning about ethics and waste. Those things are sensible, the young generation talk about provenance, sustainability and values.
“The young generation in the current financial climate do not have the disposable income we may have been used to . They have job insecurity. So, they are changing the way they go about [buying]. Attitudes are changing”.
As we walked down Bridge Street, reminiscing about ‘true gent’ Mr Alec Holloway from P Squires, who started at the electrical shop in 1947, only retiring last year aged 96, bumped into past Mayor of Test Valley Cllr Carl Borg-Neal.
Talking of the Grilled Cheese Cafe on Bridge Street he said, “Ana and Aga (the owners) didn’t find getting the right premises massively easy. It took three months to find premises they wanted.
“Andover’s not dead. It could be a lot busier if residents come in and support the town. That will help the town grow, we all need the support of the locals.”
As we commented on local businesses like Photos2Print, Pennies, Burgos Pet World and C&M DIY, we converged on the fact that people do want friendly and expert advice and help when shopping. Something you simply cannot get on the internet.
In the recent ITV Meridian broadcast (publicised as ‘The High Street: the End of the Road‘), Phil Nightingale from the Record Box on George Yard said, “[People] come into places like this, where they can actually see the things they are taking away. If they are not happy they can bring it back with ease.
“And, it’s so much more fun.”
Earlier this week, we wrote a small list of useful facts that people should bear in mind when commenting on the state of our high street. Coupled with our research today, we rather hope that this empirical research into Andover’s high street might be a useful reference point.
One thing is certainly for sure, with a staggering 130 local businesses in our high street today (and we didn’t assess Swan Court) , there are a great many people whose livelihoods rely on customers from Andover and beyond. We support local business, the sign on our front door says – and will continue to say:
SHOP. EAT. LOVE ANDOVER