20/20 Wanstead vision: part VII

©Geoff Wilkinson©Geoff Wilkinson

This year, the Wanstead Society celebrates its 20th anniversary. In the seventh of a series of articles, Chairman Scott Wilding wonders if our shopping habits might be going back to the future.

If, like me, you were pleased to hear that Gail's Bakery has plans to take over the old Barclays bank site, then maybe your shopping habits are more like your grandparents than you think. It's great to see a building that has been unused providing employment, paying its taxes and providing a service for Wanstead. With M&S set to open and Superdrug rumoured to have taken over the old Londis and HSBC sites, the future for the High Street looks bright.

But does this demonstrate a move away from the 'big weekly shop' towards more traditional ways of buying our goods? I think so. We are lucky to have four bakeries, a fruit and veg shop, a fishmonger, a butcher, a local pharmacy and vintners. Granted, not all of them are independents, but nearly all of our cafes and restaurants are, some winning wide acclaim.

My point is reflected in my own shopping habits. I make a conscious effort to shop in the High Street and support our local traders. My parents' generation invented the big shop in the out-of-town store, which is in decline. So, maybe those in their 20s to 40s are beginning to use the High Street in the same way that those in their 80s and 90s were used to.

Well, yes and no is the answer. Wanstead will have at least 10 places dedicated to coffee and snacks, five estate agents and a wide variety of restaurants. In 1920 Wanstead had one estate agent, and the only place you could buy a meal was in The George or Eagle pubs, which doubled as hotels. This generation of Wanstead folk is defined as much by its habits of cooking good food at home as eating good food out of it.

Our shopping habits are changing, with more emphasis on good quality products, and our banking is moving online. But we risk putting all our eggs in one basket unless we have a High Street that diversifies. Independent retailers like The Closet closed, and we still need to support the non-food and drink-centric shops to have a truly vibrant High Street.

It's not easy to change the way we shop; the superstores offer one-stop convenience and often very low prices. The council could, and should, do more to support our traders through lower taxes, a better public realm and parking policies that have been thought through.

However, we all have a part to play, and my guess is the future for our High Street is bright – we just need to keep it that way.

The Wanstead Society is an independent, non-political organisation that works to protect, preserve and improve the local area. Membership is £10 per household per year. Visit wansteadsociety.org.uk

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