A recent survey by Yorkshire-based marketing agency Savvy showed that 25% of shoppers expected to shop locally in the wake of the covid pandemic. Catherine Shuttleworth of Savvy told Saturday’s Yorkshire Post that nearly 1,000 shops had closed in the county, with large towns and city centres feeling the brunt. Britain, once decried by Napoleon as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, is likely to be one of smaller shops as the pandemic releases its grip. Quite what the impact will be in Filey, only time will tell. Currently only two shop units lie empty, both in Belle Vue Street.
Of course, Filey’s shopping streets are vastly different from those of a similar sized inland town. The highly seasonal nature of the town’s footfall, means that businesses have to plan for both feast and famine. The high occupancy rates suggest that the Filey’s shop keepers have been successful in attracting and retaining custom. When Tesco opened its supermarket a decade ago, there were gloomy predictions regarding the future of Filey’s shops, but on the whole the shops have proved to be remarkably resilient. However, without the usual shot in the arm provided by the February half-term and Easter, Filey’s shop keepers will be hoping for a bumper summer. If the Clerk of the Weather is kind to the town, there is no reason to expect anything other than an extremely busy season.
Looking to the future, what long-term impact might the pandemic have on Filey’s shopping habits? Being a fair distance from any major city, Filey has not traditionally been a commuter town. However, as digital links have improved beyond measure, the ability to work from home has become a reality. During lockdowns it has been argued that, with staff being freed from the daily commute, productively has increased in some sectors. The freedom to take the kids to school, walk the dog and nip to the local shops at lunchtime, has genuinely transformed some people’s lives. Clearly, the office block has yet to be cast into the waste bin of history, but commuting five days a week suddenly seems like an anachronism. Could that see an influx of home-working professionals into Filey? The internet connections are certainly good enough, and the life-style is incomparable to that of most large cities, so it is a possibility.
The other great shift brought about by the pandemic has been the availability to view public meetings and seminars online. Harrogate Council had a high-level of engagement when they live-streamed a planning meeting that was overseeing a controversial expansion of an employment site. The Friends of the British Overseas Territories were able to host a presentation that involved a real time presentation from the curator of the Falkland Island’s Museum; they were rewarded with an almost unprecedented number of participants, sat in living rooms as far-flung as New York, Gibraltar and, yes, Filey.
The technology that has facilitated this shift in participation has been in situ for sometime, the pandemic has been the driver of a change that might prove to be as historic as that to the Factory System during the Industrial Revolution. Politicians might still have their gazes fixed on the perceived glamour of the big cities, but the future might well lie in smaller sustainable communities, very much like Filey.