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Shop vacancy rates are down and things are looking up in Havering

Photographer Avril Griffin with her new business in Romford shopping hall Photographer Avril Griffin with her new business in Romford shopping hall

Saturday, March 1, 2014
12:00 PM

Derelict towns and boarded up shops have painted a picture of modern Britain over the last few years, as businesses struggled with the recession and lack of consumer spending.

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Latest vacancy rates in Havering

• Hornchurch 3.2 per cent

• Upminster 5.6 per cent

• Romford 6.5 per cent

• Rainham 7.8 per cent

• Elm Park 7.7 per cent

• Collier Row 7.9 per cent

• Harold Hill 11.0 per cent (This vacancy rate is due to shops being kept empty while the new library is built at Hilldene Shopping Centre.)

But things are on the up, as recent statistics reveal Havering’s shop vacancy rates - the amount of available units - are coming down, and are well below the national average.

As of January, rates nationwide were averaging 12.2 per cent according to a report by the Local Data Company - while independent research showed the highest in Havering was Harold Hill, where the 11 per cent rate was put down to shop units being kept empty while the new library was built at Hilldene Shopping Centre.

The lowest rates in the borough were in Hornchurch, which boasted a mere 3.2 per cent of units available.

Now, independent shop owners have revealed that people looking to enter into the world of retail are feeling “more confident.”

Kim Nicholls proprietor of Fleur Gifts in Station Rd, Upminster.Kim Nicholls proprietor of Fleur Gifts in Station Rd, Upminster.

Fleur Gifts was opened in Station Road, Upminster in October 2012 by married couple Chris and Kim Nicholls, who decided to take the “risk” earlier that year when speaking to a friend who owned a similar shop in Essex.

“Kim pointed out that there was no store selling giftware and homeware in Upminster, so we decided to start one.

After a successful first year, the couple decided to branch out, and in October of last year opened a second store in the Liberty Shopping Centre in Romford.

“We think there is a bit more confidence out there,” said the former stockbroker.

“After opening one shop we were more happy to do it a second time. We believed we knew what we were doing a bit more and people seem to be coming back to the High Street.”

And Chris had some words of advice for people thinking of going down the same route.

“If you think the market is there then try it. If you can make it in this market then you will be okay when things get better. And you can get a good deal with the rent at the moment.”

Similarly, Avril Griffin, 26, opened her first shop, Pandora Images, just last week, at Romford Shopping Hall in Market Square.

“I decided to do it three years ago,” said Avril, of Hornchurch, “but I didn’t want to do it on credit or finance, so I saved.”

“I’m enjoying it so far, I had my first customer! I used to study photography at college and worked in a studio for a few years, but wanted my own.

“It shows if you want something hard enough, give it a good go. I’d advise anyone to stick with it. Don’t be put off and work hard. It does happen.”

Like Chris, Avril agrees things have got better recently, and puts it down to people being more careful with their money.

“People have got a bit more money - or have learnt how to live on a budget and still treat themselves. I am feeling positive and I am happy where I am.”

Market manager at Romford Shopping Hall, Michelle Fitzgibbons said there were only two vacant units left, and the shopping centre had experienced an upturn in visitors over the last six months.

“I think we are coming out of the recession. The owners realise that it is a tough world but if you have passion and dogged determination you will get there.”

Havering Council cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Robert Benham, said: “Six of our seven main shopping centres are more than 90 per cent full.

“That is borne out by recent shop openings including Fleur Gifts, Hot Shoes, Purple Valentine and Sasa Jewellery in Romford, an independent butchers in Collier Row, the Barbers Shop in Hornchurch and The Tea Cozy Cafe in Upminster.”

Havering Enterprise Week starts on Monday, and will include free workshops for retailers. For more information visit havering.gov.uk/Pages/Category/Business.aspx.

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