Shop Sudbury Pledge strives to change consumer habits by encouraging greater support for local and independent businesses
As more businesses open their doors to customers once again, a new campaign has urged Sudbury residents to change their shopping habits and embrace everything the town has to offer.
The Shop Sudbury Pledge kicked off this month to help businesses bounce back from the coronavirus crisis by encouraging people to do their trade locally more often.
Set up by Sudbury Town Council and networking organisation thebestof Sudbury, the initiative asks shoppers to commit to shop in the town, and also with independent businesses, at least once a week, in an effort to develop longer-term ‘shop local’ habits.
It also asks people to help spread the word on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #ShopSudburyPledge to raise further awareness of what is available to buy locally.
To launch the pledge, Sudbury town centre manager Rachel Price and Penny Wilby, owner of thebestof Sudbury, are posting online diaries detailing their experience of shopping exclusively in the town for the entire month.
Penny told the Free Press: “People have got in the habit of buying things online and there’s a bit of anxiety about getting back out on to the high street. We thought it would be a good idea to pledge to shop local and ask other people to do the same.
“There’s such a wide variety in Sudbury. Because we do lead such busy lives, we don’t always notice what’s around us.”
Rachel added: “As consumers, we’ve all become a bit lazy in our routines, so part of the campaign is about diversifying how we shop and changing consumer habits.
“What this pledge does is really open up your eyes to what’s on your doorstep.”
The launch of the Shop Sudbury Pledge follows one of the most challenging years on record for local businesses, as many scrambled to adapt to the restrictions of lockdown.
Following the first national lockdown, the town council and Babergh District Council launched the Sudbury Virtual High Street – a digital platform for local businesses that has since grown to over 100 members and is now being extended to other towns.
Rachel said that every £1 spent in Sudbury was worth 400 per cent more to the local economy than £1 spent outside the town.
“Over the last year, with the virtual high street, I know full well I can get everything I need on my doorstep,” she said.
“A lot of independents are going for this omni-channel approach to commerce. Buying something online may compel me to visit the shop physically in the high street. It’s like a digital shop window.
“We have 70 per cent independent businesses in the town. That’s really the strength of the town centre. If we lost those, the soul would be ripped out of the high street.”
Penny explained the new pledge was inspired by a campaign she ran seven years ago, when she set up thebestof Sudbury, and that a large part of the scheme is making people more aware of what is out there.
“We want people to open their eyes to what’s around them and support businesses that have supported the community during lockdown,” she said. “There’s always a hidden gem.
“The high street is evolving. Maybe, over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a move from the high street to online and that has had a massive impact. But a lot of independents are embracing that new way.”
The organisers also strongly refuted any arguments circulating on social media about whether the high street is dying, arguing that businesses needed support from local people more than ever.
“I think the high street is going towards more social experiences,” said Penny. “This move was happening before, and Covid simply sped it up.
“Obviously, it has been a really tough year. By showing a bit of positivity, I would hope other people will be thinking in a similarly positive way, rather than saying Sudbury is dead or a ghost town, which makes my head explode.
“I think there’s a lot of high street nostalgia, because people remember the experience of their youth. The high street is evolving, so it’s not going to be like that any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.”
Rachel added: “There are so many fantastic independents, but even those that are part of a national chain are just as passionate about Sudbury.
“When people go online and say Sudbury is dying, I think, ‘what was the last place you shopped in Sudbury or the last thing you bought?’ You have to show your appreciation and shop in the town centre if you want to keep it alive.
“I don’t think people have a right to criticise what direction the town is going, if they don’t support it.
“If Covid has shown us anything, it’s that people are social animals. Market Hill was built as a civic space. Sudbury is an ancient market town and that 1,000-year heritage is still alive today. It’s not just about commerce – it’s about congregation.
“I think there has been a new-found appreciation for the role of the town centre. I don’t take it for granted. I think the benefit for the high street, coming out of this pandemic, will be manifold.”
To learn more about the Shop Sudbury Pledge, click here.
Those taking part can post about their experiences here.