Column: Local first – how communities can survive and thrive after coronavirus.

Denton South councillor George Newton discusses his blueprint to boost the local economy in the wake of Covid-19.

While the last three months brought substantial challenges, lockdown also gave us an opportunity to become more aware of and involved in our own communities.

We have rediscovered what is on our doorstep: beautiful green spaces, neighbours and friends, people willing to lend a hand and thriving local businesses.

The Chancellor has warned that the UK is headed for a recession “the likes of which we have never seen”. Coronavirus has taken its toll on our communities, but its impact will be felt long after any vaccine is created.

In 2008, the global financial crash decimated our high streets. Shops closed, families were out of work, and our villages and town centres looked and felt run down.

Now is the perfect time to take stock of what we discovered in lockdown and — so that our communities can survive and thrive after coronavirus — we should adopt a “Local First” attitude.

The convenience and affordability of next day delivery can be difficult to compete with, but I believe there are five “Local First” actions that shoppers and businesses can do to help our communities survive and thrive when businesses re-open this summer.

Recognise the importance of the local pound. 

A pound spent in your village or town is worth so much more than a pound spent on Amazon. It is an often repeated cliché, but it is true that when you spend local you are investing in local families, local services and your local high street.

Local businesses should diversify and adapt. 

When Britain was placed into lockdown, small businesses around the country instantly adapted to ensure they remained profitable. Pubs offered takeaway beers, high street shops provided home delivery and restaurants provided takeaway meals at a slight reduction. Businesses should embrace this new way of making money, and consumers should not be afraid of asking for this.

Reward community-orientated local businesses. 

The way businesses behaved throughout the pandemic tells you everything you need to know about the way they treat their staff and – ultimately – their customers. Reward the businesses that took pride in their community, looked out for their staff, and bent over backwards to help their customers.

And remember which businesses which sought to make profit from a bad situation and hung their staff out to dry.

Engage local businesses and politicians. 

This sounds daft, but town and village centres will only stay open and active for as long as people want them to.

Let local business owners, residents, councillors and MPs know what you want from your local high street. Cash will be tight, but goodwill is aplenty so help to create a place where people want to go to shop, drink, eat and live.

Adopt a local first approach. 

Slow down! If you are about to order something from Amazon, check in with a local shop to see whether they could source it for you.

And before you head out to the big profit-churning supermarkets, visit your local shops to see what you can pick up from them — it is often better and cheaper.

We still have a long way to go with coronavirus, and it will be some time before we realise what this pandemic has done to our economy, but as we slowly return to normality, please do consider adopting a “Local First” approach and help your community survive and thrive after coronavirus.

We must pull together to avoid what happened after the 2008 crash — who knows if our towns and villages can survive another hit?

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