Berwick hit by shop closures

Berwick’s beleaguered high street has been dealt a double blow at the beginning of the new year.

Claire’s (Accessories) and Thorntons are both closing their stores on Saturday, taking the number of empty units on Marygate to ten.

Claire’s is closing because its lease is up while Thorntons was bought by the Italian chocolate-maker Ferrero in 2015 and has closed a number of stores across the country.

A Ferrero spokesperson said: “Like any retailer, we are continuously reviewing our store estate to ensure we are in the locations that meet our customer needs.

“As a result of such a review, the decision was taken to close the store at Berwick on Tweed on January 12, 2019. Currently, five staff members are employed at the store and we are looking to find them other employment opportunities where possible.”

They are the latest in a steady stream of national retailers to leave the town centre in recent years. Although this has been offset to some extent by the success of independent retailers, notably on Bridge Street, Berwick Chamber of Trade admits the decline of the town’s main shopping thoroughfare is a major problem.

Stephen Scott, chamber secretary, said: “The latest closures are unfortunately not surprising and reinforce the challenges faced by the traditional ‘High Street’ across the country. For the ‘High Street’ of the future change will be the only constant, this needs to be acknowledged and embraced by all.”

Among the possibilities being explored is a Berwick bid to the Government’s £675 million Future High Street Fund, announced in the last Budget, to help high streets evolve and adapt. It is understood Northumberland County Council would put a bid together with input from Berwick Regeneration Commission and Berwick Town Council.

“We need to create a high street’ that accepts that the retail requirements of the 21st century have changed and that the new high street needs to embrace much more than retail businesses,” said Mr Scott.

“It needs to offer entertainment, hospitality, community services and more varied independent retailers.

“Berwick Chamber of Trade acknowledge that the situation may well deteriorate further before it improves, but high streets have recently been subject to a number of high profile studies and the problem has been acknowledged by the Government in the recent budget, where some financial support was made available.

“We need to take on board the messages and lessons from these studies and develop solutions that will work specifically for Berwick.

“Berwick Chamber of Trade aims to work with our local authorities and all stakeholders that can help to facilitate this goal.”