Plans announced to create ‘digital high street’ to help small and independent shops in Breckland

PUBLISHED: 09:24 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 17:11 19 January 2018

Watton High Street. Picture: Matthew Usher

Watton High Street. Picture: Matthew Usher

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Independent retailers will be given an online shop window as part of plans to create a ‘digital high street’ in some of Norfolk’s market towns.

Thetford's King Street. Picture: Rebecca MurphyThetford's King Street. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

The initiative aims to encourage people to shop locally and level the playing field for businesses who are having to compete against major players online.

Breckland Council will work with website ShopAppy to bring shopkeepers together in one place from its five market towns of Thetford, Dereham, Swaffham, Watton and Attleborough.

Customers will be able to search the products from the independent shops and pay for them in one transaction, then ‘click and collect’ their items at one of the shops or a designated pick-up point in their town.

Breckland will become the first council outside of Yorkshire to roll out the enterprise.

Leader of Breckland Council William Nunn. Picture: Ian BurtLeader of Breckland Council William Nunn. Picture: Ian Burt

Council leader William Nunn announced the plans at a full council meeting on Thursday and was supported by councillors.

“We know that many people want to shop locally and support independent shops but above all they want convenience,” he said. “Independent stores and small retailers add character to our high streets but many don’t have the resources to have a virtual presence, so it’s important that we assist them to survive and thrive.

“Our rural villages also rely on our market towns as hubs, so we need to do all we can to support them by fighting the challenges high streets up and down the country are facing.

“This exciting new venture will help level the playing for our towns’ independent shops that are competing with supermarkets and other big retailers.”

Dereham town centre. Picture: Ian BurtDereham town centre. Picture: Ian Burt

The first 200 businesses to sign up will be subsidised by the authority which will initially work with ShopAppy for three years.

The scheme forms part of the council’s Market Town Initiative, which aims to ensure each of the district’s market towns remain vibrant and sustainable in the long-term.

Plans are being developed to engage with local businesses to encourage them to sign-up to the ShopAppy initiative in the near future.

ShopAppy was launched by Jackie Mulligan in Saltaire, Yorkshire in November 2016. She said the scheme gives “every independent in every local town a 24-hour shop window”.

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