The success story of Tonbridge High Street- the town centre that’s bucking the national trend

“More people now are starting to shop more local. They’ve realised that if they don’t they’re going to lose it.”High streets across the country are taking a hammering – but Tonbridge is somehow bucking the trend.

In a climate of seemingly endless online consumption, independent traders around the county have been forced to shut up shop – but Tonbridge continues to thrive.The High Street is filled with bustling businesses as well as keen shoppers who can park for free on bank holidays, Sundays and after 6pm in nearby car parks – whereas all-day Sunday parking in Tunbridge Wells costs £2.

Refundable parking is also available at Sainsbury’s, Iceland and Waitrose in town.Greatstone Fish Bar manager tells all about surprise lunchtime visit from Ed Sheeran.People are choosing to shop local

Trudy King and Hazel the dog of Wolfit pet shop

With regular events and sporting games well within reach, manager at the Wolfit pet shop, Trudy King, says Tonbridge Castle attracts more visitors than before.

The 61-year-old said: “We’re lucky we’ve got the park, the castle, and the fact it’s one High Street and you haven’t got to go off on other routes like in Tunbridge Wells.

“You can always get parked and lots of things now go on at the castle and there’s always something.There’s not that many empty shops, really.“More people now are starting to shop more local. They’ve realised that if they don’t they’re going to lose it. People are actually saying ‘Oh no, I’d rather shop local’ than online.”

The Tonbridge Castle brings in visitors from across the county with regular events

A spokesman from Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council said: “Over a number of years the council has taken a positive approach to encouraging greater residential use in and around the town centre as a way of maintaining and increasing footfall and spending in the town centre, and helping to make our town centre businesses more successful.

“In addition, because of the good links, the weekends tend to see people travelling down from London to spend time in Tonbridge.”

The High Street is often filled with students, couples and shoppers

The borough council doesn’t offer any extra business rate tax relief, but says it applies national reliefs where it can. Nonetheless, locals continue to support their shops throughout the week.

Traffic-laden Tunbridge Wells has seen its shopping centre, Royal Victoria Place, suffer from a lack of custom as one in every three units are empty.However, according to the borough council’s figures, 7.5 per cent of the town’s shops are vacant – notably lower than the national average of 10.3 per cent.

‘It’s not too difficult to own a small business’Sacred Heart DIY’s Vince Simonetti says the town has a homely feel.Vince Simonetti, manager at Sacred Heart DIY, says the town is cosy, allowing more connections to be built between traders and locals.

He said: “It’s very homey, the locals are really friendly. It’s not as busy as Tunbridge Wells, which is a nice thing – traffic doesn’t build up as much.“There are fewer people here. It’s not like a bigger town. You get to see the same faces quite a lot, as people can walk here.

“The town welcomes small businesses. It’s not too difficult to own a small business, like this one for example, and there’s not much competition, which is quite nice.“I think where things are a lot busier elsewhere and a lot more hectic, people are always in a rush, they don’t have time to stop for a chat.”

Ceri Brimsted believes the town is attracting a new type of shopper

Restaurants, cafes and shops are also helping to bring new faces into the town, as Ceri Brimsted, manager of The Wine Library, explained.

She said: “I’ve noticed we’ve got more shops coming up the north end of town. In general there’s a lot of new properties that have been built which have clearly brought a lot more people to the area.“People seemed to be stuck in a rut though, stopping at the bridge, but now they’re venturing out more, coming up this end of town.”

Ceri said the variety of options is helping to supply the new generation of shopper. She added: “There’s a lot of organic and vegan produce now and it’s what people are asking for.”

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