Speaking Personally: Paul Cardwell on being a happy shopper

Paul Cardwell
Paul Cardwell

Recently there has been a number of calls, both locally and nationally, to come up with ways of saving our ailing town centres.

The view given most publicity of late is that of television presenter and ‘high street guru’ Mary Portas, who, last month, revealed the findings of her independent review which was commissioned by the Government, no less.

She came up with 28 main points to reverse the decline in struggling town centres, such as Leven.

Her vision was that high streets should be the heart of our communities.

To do this, she initially said they should be “re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning”.

Explaining this a little further, she added high streets shouldn’t just be about selling goods and should, instead, contain a mix of shops, housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places.

This all sounded good to me and I thought Mary was on to a winner but, after looking at Leven High Street, I realised much of it is already there.

It has what Mary was suggesting town centres need to be the heart of the community.

You can park for free and it has great access, with the bus station at the Shorehead.

For all it gets knocked, it has a good mixture of shops. For example, you have chemists, bakers, clothes, hardware, newsagents, food and household goods on offer. It has meeting places in a number of cafés and pubs, as well as the open air seating in the circle between Ladbrokes and Greggs. It has other commercial enterprises such as lawyers, estate agents, bookmakers, opticians and hairdressers. And it also has sport, cultural and social enterprises through places like the leisure centre, the library and charity shops.

So why, if it fits in so well with Mary’s magic map of a town, is Leven High Street not booming?

Perhaps we just don’t need or want traditional high streets any more and shouldn’t bother to try and save them?

Are the majority of us all happy shopping in a supermarket rather than individual shops, which can’t compete on price?

Do many of us prefer to call a hairdresser to the house before we go on a big night out, instead of going into town in the pouring rain?

Are many of us choosing to go to a friend’s house to socialise and have a drink and some food, rather than going to a pub or restaurant where you don’t know who you will meet?

In the digital age, do most of us prefer booking holidays, placing bets and banking online, rather than waiting in long queues?

I don’t know the answers but I do think these questions should be asked before we blindly decide we must save our high streets, whatever the cost.

*Paul Cardwell writes for the East Fife Mail