Businesses must work together “now more than ever” to promote what King’s Lynn has to offer as town centres start to emerge from lockdown, experts warn.
The coronavirus crisis has led to fears for the long-term future of High Streets up and down country.
Many retailers and restaurant chains were struggling before lockdown forced them to close, partly due to an existing shift towards online shopping, and the challenges faced have now been exacerbated.
With no clear end in sight, the pandemic has already taken its toll, with early casualties including Carphone Warehouse and rent-to-own appliance retailer BrightHouse, both with branches in Lynn.
Non-essential shops such as fashion retailers could re-open from next month as lockdown restrictions ease and more people return to work.
But, with social distancing continuing and more big names expected to collapse under the strain, town centres will have a fight on their hands.
Vicky Etheridge manager of King’s Lynn BID (Business Improvement District) said this week: “To say that most town centre businesses are having a hard time at the moment would be an understatement.”
Help is at hand after Lynn BID, called Discover King’s Lynn, pledged to support businesses as they prepared to re-open with £10,000 it expects to receive from a £6.1m government resilience fund in recognition of the crucial role BIDs play in revitalising town centres.
Discover King’s Lynn is also offering businesses free signage, help to complete risk assessments and COVID-19 safety ahead of re-opening next month.
This year’s bills for the businesses who pay towards BID have not yet been sent out in recognition of the difficulties faced.
BID chairman Sharon Edwards, of Lynn accountancy firm Mapus-Smith and Lemmon, said: “We are working with the borough council to set a date to issue the bills and offer monthly payment plans.
“We recognised that many will not be able to pay this year and we have budgeted for that, without a BID there is no organisation or single voice that has the business community as its primary focus.
“The BID will be even more important to champion business needs and importance of a vibrant town centre as part of the recovery process.”
Lynn High Street received a major blow last week when flagship store Debenhams confirmed it would not re-open after lockdown.
The department store chain fell into administration for the second time this year in April and a spokesman said the Lynn closure was due to not being able to “agree appropriate terms with the landlord”.
West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long said: “This is devastating news for the employees of Debenhams, many of whom have worked there for a long time.
“I would urge those who are now facing unemployment to get in touch to see how we can assist with council tax support or point them in the direction of other assistance.”
Graham Middleton, cabinet member for business development, said the council was already in discussions with partners on the Vision King’s Lynn board and King’s Lynn BID to look at ways they work together to support recovery efforts as lockdown eases.
“Debenhams is a flagship store at that end of the High Street and its closing is going to leave a big hole.
“There is much uncertainty about the future of high street retail coming out of this COVID-19 pandemic, not just in King’s Lynn, but across the country.
Ms Etheridge added: “We are really sad to see Debenhams close and feel for the staff team at this time, there is support available to them via New Anglia Local Economic Partnership (LEP) and they can contact us for details.
“As a BID we would also want to add that now more than ever, businesses in the town need to work together to promote what we do have and can offer.
“We will continue to champion the needs of our town centre businesses to the borough and county council and the LEP, to lever in extra resources and right now will do all we practically can to help businesses re-open safely.”
BrightHouse collapsed into administration in March, putting 2,400 jobs across its 240 stores at risk.
Carphone Warehouse, which has a branch in Broad Street, announced it would be closing all 531 of its standalone stores in April, leading to 2,900 job losses.
BID is asking businesses to get in touch if they need help with signage and risk assessment or have ideas of how BID can support them.
Contact Ms Etheridge on 07387752226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org