Shoppers and small business owners fear for Romford’s retail future

Romford Town centre. South Street

Romford Town centre. South Street - Credit: Archant

For hundreds of years, Romford has been the epicentre of shopping in the borough, with a busy high street, shops galore and a historic market.

Romford Town centre gv's. Romford market

Romford Town centre gv's. Romford market - Credit: Archant

But as the popularity of online shopping increases and with retail giants just a train journey away, concerns have been expressed by residents and small business owners about the future of the town centre.

Jamie La-Roques, owner of LA Rox Barbers in the Quadrant Arcade, believes smaller businesses of good quality can bring something different to the table.

“There are a lot of bargain stores here and little shops selling whatever they can get rather than focusing on one thing and it looks a bit rubbish – if there were more exciting places to shop then people would go there.

“I don’t think the market is getting that much business anymore either because there are lots of discount shops right next to it.”

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Shopper Linda Bourg, 47, of Hornchurch, said: “It’s good having all of these big shops here but at the same time, there’s nothing really special about it anymore.

“If you want to shop for big brands, you can just go to Lakeside where there is a lot more of them.”

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Tara Simpson, owner of family-run Ashley Brooks Fabrics, Market Place, which has been open for 30 years, said: “I think little shops need to be made more attractive to get people to want to shop there because a lot of them do look similar.

“It is becoming more difficult setting up and running your own shop with the high business rates and rents as well.”

Despite worries about Romford’s progress, Havering Council has insisted that it is encouraging small and independent businesses to create a “vibrant culture”.

Cllr Osman Dervish, cabinet member for environment, regulatory services and community safety, said: “In 2015 Romford was named the start-up capital of Great Britain by Experian and our plans for Romford town centre embody this start-up culture with various support opportunities being available for businesses to develop and thrive.”

In a bid to help tackle the issue head-on, community initiative Made in Public will be opening The Retailery, a business hub offering work spaces, support and advice to help start-ups grow at former nightclub Hush in Market Place.

Lauren Martin, of Made in Public, is hopeful it will be open next month.

She said: “Over the years Romford has become a shopping zone that’s associated with big chains, large shopping centres and discount shops.

“Sadly that doesn’t leave much room for the independent retailer.

“By opening The Retailery we hope to offer something to the businesses that are trying to make their mark in an area heavily saturated, by what I call ‘the big boys’, giving independent start-ups a real chance at growing their idea and staying afloat.”

A public consultation will also be launched next week on proposals to build a “Market House” outside St Edward’s Church .

It would accommodate a new food or drink outlet and pop-up food stalls to encourage more people to spend time in the market.

Romford MP Andrew Rosindell said: “The market isn’t what it used to be. It used to be really vibrant and really strong but now it is much smaller.

“The world has changed and people tend not to visit markets anymore but there are plans to revitalise it. I think we are at the bottom of the hill at the moment but we are starting to climb our way back up.”

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