January is a time for reflection (albeit only briefly!) and as we gather up pace for our host of activities in 2020 we look back on what made Wimbledon wonderful in 2019. It was the year of culture, of art, of diversity at a time where some saw division, we saw hope. Wimbledon couldn’t have been prouder to be the home of the UK’s first rainbow crossing created by Merton Council saying many things from ‘welcome all’, to brightening up school children’s and theatre goers experience as they crossed our Broadway. We collaborated with an environmental artist highlighting the plight of house sparrows, birds that were common rather than rare, bringing free accessible art to all whilst enriching Wimbledon’s cultural scene.
The thing is with Wimbledon we aren’t renowned as a tech quarter or the heart of the creative industry or a financial centre, we are a place that has diverse businesses that thrive on being with each other and just like it here because, well it’s Wimbledon. (and easy to get to and from by train, tube, tram, bus, bike or feet….!) Wimbledon has seen improved footfall, reduced crime and increased investment in office refurbishments providing high quality floor space.
But it’s not just that this has strengthened our town centre’s look and feel, there’s a wider impact. There’s the, almost 100% positive response about these activities, from the businesses who choose Wimbledon, the people who work here, the visitors who use it and the residents who want a better town centre. There’s an overwhelming sense of ‘feel good’ and in these challenging times of high streets and retail, it’s good to see a town centre step forward and buck a national trend.
So will the trend stop of talking down our high streets, rather than looking at how they are adapting to change. We may have seen the inevitable closure of Debenhams here, but we have a growing, popular independent department store – Elys, which has adapted to changing customers’ needs, absolutely getting the Wimbledon customer. The Debenhams closure will bring opportunities: opportunities to do something different, adapt to the market and bring new energy into customer experiences. This adaptation hasn’t been felt since large out of town shopping centres sprung up in the nineties ‘killing high streets’. The High Streets adapted, they recovered, they morphed into a new experience, but they came back.
It’s time for High Streets to fight back. Let’s look at what we can do, rather than what we can’t and let’s make way for change.