Ashford: independent retail scene enjoys revival

Posted on 4 February 2019

With national retail in the doldrums, Ashford’s retail scene is bucking national trends, enjoying a 5.8% increase in town centre footfall in 2018.

Continual evolution and investment throughout Ashford, including the recent opening of Elwick Place, a £75 million retail development in the town centre, a thriving residential and commercial property scene bringing more people into the town and fresh events like the Ashford Snowdogs initiative have supported this.

The Kent town has a diverse retail offering from big name brands such as Next, Debenhams, H&M and Metro Bank, to independent shops, which are making a name for themselves as shopping destinations in Ashford and more widely across the county. These businesses range from family-run café, Stag Coffee, beer and pizza outlet Taproom (TN23) who has made Ashford its first out-of-London location, and Made in Ashford, a collaborative shop of local designers and producers.

made in ashford, park mall, ashford, kent
Made in Ashford, Park Mall Shopping Centre

Made in Ashford is home to nearly 50 creative businesses that sell a range of gifts, clothing and cards all produced and sourced locally. Their customer base consists of those that are keen to support local businesses, something that has been intrinsic to their success.

The retail collective saw its best Christmas ever in 2018, with trading up 30% on December last year, finishing the year in a strong position, up 17% on 2017 results.

“The council has been very proactive in nurturing independent business on the high street to give us the best chance of success.”

Melissa Dawkins, Curator & Manager of Made in Ashford

Melissa Dawkins, Curator & Manager of Made in Ashford, outlines her experience of being based in Ashford: “I love Ashford, it has so much to offer. My favourite thing about it is the incredible sense of community and the town has the best people. The council has been very proactive in nurturing independent business on the high street to give us the best chance of success. Ashford is bucking national footfall trends and spend is increasing. I believe the town is on the cusp of incredible positive change and we are very excited about the future.”

Kati Ramsden is owner of Bare Bazaar, a zero-waste grocery store which operates as a pop-up within Made in Ashford on Friday and Saturday each week. The innovative business came about from a frustration at the amount of plastic in packaging and offers its customers sustainable food and toiletries.

Bare Bazaar, Park Mall, Ashford, Kent
Kati Ramsden, Owner of Bare Bazaar

Starting at Ashford Farmers Market in July 2018, Bare Bazaar has become popular across a range of demographics and customers are known to travel from across Kent to snap up its unique zero-waste products. The shop saw a 34.5% growth in sales in November 2018, in the lead up to Christmas.

Kati explains why she thinks Ashford is the perfect location for her business: “Ashford offers a well-connected base for any business. The council are so progressive and that helps a great deal too. I make myself known to local business owners because I want to be part of a mutually supportive environment where we can promote and buy from each other wherever possible.

“I am adamant that the high street can be revived after a perceived downturn in recent years and I’m passionate about being part of the change.”