High street guru Mary Portas gives inspirational talk to BID businesses in Sutton Coldfield

Home News & Events News High street guru Mary Portas gives inspirational talk to BID businesses in Sutton Coldfield

Top high street guru Mary Ports gave an inspirational talk on how to revive the town centre to Sutton Coldfield businesses.

The star of Mary Queen of Shops was speaking at a packed seminar organised and funded by Visit Royal Sutton Coldfield BID, held on Wednesday 7th June at Sutton Coldfield College.

After being welcomed to the stage by the college’s Vice Principal Anna Jackson, Mary took part in an informal interview with BID chair Alison Clack and board member Angela Henderson – with the high street expert often prompting laughs from the audience as she talked humorously about her many years in business.

But the main thrust of the evening centred on how Sutton’s town centre can be revived, with Mary offering up fascinating examples of innovative businesses models that were thriving elsewhere.

Mary said two main causes lay behind the challenges facing all town centres – the trend to build out-of-town supermarkets, and the switch to internet shopping – a combination she described as ‘the perfect storm’.

However, she spoke passionately about the future, insisting that the secret was to look forward, not backwards.

Among the ideas Mary shared were the ‘regreening’ of town centres, where nature is reintroduced to create a more relaxing and welcoming environment, and the need to back more community-based businesses, which were more invested in their local high street than large chains.

She also talked about the benefits of reintroducing residential accommodation into town centres and high streets to boost footfall and gave some inspired examples of how empty units could be repurposed as chain stores moved out.

The former director of Harvey Nicholls also gave her prediction on the future of retail, saying that in a ‘post-consumerist’ world: “We will need less retail, but better retail.”

She asked: “If you’re looking at Sutton Coldfield, how are we going to get people to spend Wednesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons here. What will make them come?”

She also gave an insight into her work with the Government, after she was asked by David Cameron to conduct a review of the future for high streets, saying that she now regretted the fact the report wasn’t prepared on a cross-party basis.

But Mary also said that the impact of COVID 19 had led people to re-evaluate what they needed from life, leading to a less consumerist society.

She told the audience: “We are going through the greatest transition we have ever seen, moving from a consumerist society to a society of collaboration with communities at the heart of it.”

Town centres, she stressed, would need to reflect that change in attitudes with less reliance on retail.

She said that five social functions – living, working, caring, learning and socialising – would be key to success, creating an eco-system involving both business and the community.

She said: “You have to have a strategy and vision, bit it’s a vision that’s no longer about consumerism. What is going to be our strategy for Sutton Coldfield? It needs to be a strategy that says: ‘This is what we want you to do, and we would like you to be part of that’.

At the end of the talk, Mary received a gift of flowers from students at the college, and enthusiastic applause from Sutton’s business community.

BID Manager Michelle Baker said: “Mary was truly inspirational and gave real insight into where the future lies for high streets.

“It was encouraging to see that some of the ideas that she highlighted are already being done here in Sutton Coldfield, but this is very much the starting point as we look ahead.

“The BID is working hard to encourage more people to visit Sutton Coldfield, with lots of events and attractions, but tonight’s talk was about the broader business community here, and the strategic approach that will be needed to create a thriving future for Sutton town centre.

“Bringing an expert of Mary Portas’s stature to Sutton Coldfield for this seminar showed the ambition that we have for the Royal Town, and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the event from local businesses shows that there is a united will to carve out a successful future for the town centre.”