Virtual high streets expand into Eye and Needham Market as scores of independent businesses join scheme
Virtual high streets are to be expanded to Eye and Needham Market in the coming weeks as scores of independent businesses in Babergh and Mid Suffolk have joined the digital town centres.
Dedicated webpages dubbed ‘virtual high streets’ were set up for Sudbury, Hadleigh and Stowmarket outlining locations of independent firms, opening hours, offers and contact details, allowing shoppers to find out what is on offer before they visit.
Latest figures have indicated that 152 businesses are signed up in Sudbury, 65 in Hadleigh and 80 for Stowmarket, with Mid Suffolk District Council confirming that Eye and Needham Market will now get their own virtual high street pages soon in the next phase of work.
Councillor Gerard Brewster, Independent cabinet member for economic growth at Mid Suffolk District Council said: “The Virtual High Street scheme has already been a huge benefit to businesses across Sudbury, Hadleigh and Stowmarket – providing many with their first online presence and helping them to reach more potential customers than ever before.
“We are delighted with the response to date, and looking forward to expanding the scheme to Needham Market and Eye shortly so retailers there can also showcase their products and offers to shoppers locally and further afield.
“By launching these virtual high streets, alongside the support offered through our digital skills programme, we can support our businesses and communities to recover from the impact of the Covid pandemic, by helping them to grow online as well as encouraging more customers onto our high streets.”
According to the council, as many as 70 per cent of the businesses in Sudbury signed up had not utilised a digital presence before, meaning it is also helping firms access new customers.
Colin Tapscott, chairman of the Stowmarket Chamber of Commerce, said: “The principle itself [of a virtual high street], certainly when we were discussing it we were very supportive of it
“It’s a good thing to be promoting businesses in this way and any way of rolling it out to other towns would be an advantage.”
He added that it was about “tying the whole town together, not just the high street itself”.
John Matthissen from the opposition Green and Liberal Democrat group said: “Our group very much support additional help for businesses in Stowmarket, Eye and Needham. Localising the economy is another measure to increase resilience and reduce transport contributions to climate change.
“The Stowmarket element has some way to go to achieve a critical mass of retailers’ presence, and feedback from retailers so far is the need for significant and continuing promotion of the virtual high street platform, which would also encourage greater take up.”
A date for the new virtual high street pages being launched has not yet been given, but is expected sometime this autumn.