Yorkshire’s homegrown revolution

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A Yorkshire-based shop locally campaign has become a worldwide movement thanks to its community-led caring and sharing approach. Sharon Dale reports.

Chris Sands cannot be described as rich. He lives in a modest two-up, two-down and his preferred mode of transport is a bicycle. But he’s a nice chap and if you ask: “Where did being nice get you?” he can honestly say that it’s helped him make millions.

His “Be nice. It gets things done. Being nasty stops things happening” ethos is also the first rule of a retail phenomenon that has revived hundreds of independent shops and businesses.

Totally Locally, a shop local campaign dreamed up by marketing and branding expert Chris, has been adopted by traders in 60 towns across Britain, with more set to follow this year. Word has spread via the internet and it’s now in Australia and New Zealand, with launches planned in America, Canada and France.

One of its most successful messages is that if residents spend a fiver a week in their area’s independent shops, it will generate £40m for the local economy. “There’s no point just saying ‘shop locally’ to people. It has no impact. You have to set a target and tell people how they can make a difference and then they’ll do it,” says Sands.

“I don’t understand complex economics and community asset transfer myself but I know that if you spend a fiver in a supermarket, most of that money will go out of town. If you spend it in a local shop, it’s likely to be redistributed within the local economy. That’s what the campaign is all about.”

Traders are also encouraged to practise what they preach and buy from each other. “If you own a clothes shop but you buy your books from Amazon instead of the bookshop down the road, then you can’t expect them to support you,” says Chris, who launched the first Totally Locally campaign in Calderdale in 2009.

He tendered for a one-year council contract to devise and implement a scheme to encourage people to shop local in six towns – and it worked. He and former business partner Nigel Goddard were paid £12,000 for the campaign and when funding ran out they made the momentous decision to “give it away for free”.

Since then they have put 7,000 hours of unpaid work into what has become a social enterprise, fuelled only by feelgood factor. Their endeavours included building a Totally Locally website with a town revitalisation kit that can be downloaded for free. It has all the branding and marketing material needed: flyers, posters, a powerfully-worded manifesto and the Declaration of Independents, which shopkeepers and businesses can pin to their wall.

Among other things, the declaration states: “We put our money where our mouth is. We choose to spend our money locally with other local businesses in our town – from shops to suppliers, window cleaners to accountants and all things in between. Because supporting each other makes a thriving local economy and makes our town a better place to live, work and visit.”

A lot of effort went into the design. Hours were spent on the wording and everything is trademarked as they don’t like people to use it without permission or to use it for their own ends, like one local politician did.

That would be breaking Totally Locally’s rule number two, “The old way of doing things is all Me, Me, Me. Totally Locally is all about Us, Us, Us.” The rules must be observed. If not, failure is inevitable and it has failed in one or two towns, where egos, back biting and selfish motives prevailed.

The rules, says Sands, are the secret of success. Britain’s supermarkets, plagued by profit slumps and closures, and those businesses with a greedy, ruthless approach would do well to take note. The aforementioned rule one, “Be Nice” reappears at number nine.

Traders are also told not to form a committee and to hold informal meetings in a local pub. “I hate committees and people who really get the Totally Locally idea generally feel the same way,” explains Chris. “We encourage people to post and discuss ideas on Facebook before meeting up in a pub. It’s not at all chaotic. If you plan a holiday with a bunch of mates, you wouldn’t have minutes and a chairman would you?”

He also warns that TL groups must be prepared to put the hours in. “You can’t just put the posters up and think that’s it. It’s hard work and you have to be passionate and creative. This isn’t just a shop local campaign it’s about fostering pride in where you live and encouraging everyone to feel the same.”

Sharing ideas via the Facebook site is encouraged and it was Sands who came up with Fiver Fest, where local shops all have great special offers for a fiver. While the campaign is gathering momentum, he stresses it is not anti-supermarket or chain store. It’s about finding a balance. “A lot of local shops are open when I am working and shut when I’m not, so I end up having to use supermarkets myself sometimes. Having said that, there are lots of initiatives around opening hours. Keelham Farm shop, near Bradford, opens till 8pm and in Hebden Bridge a lot of shops open Sunday and close Monday.”

He suggests that we abandon the “big shop” and make an effort to buy from the local butcher, baker and greengrocer, and heeding the advice could be a sound investment. The spin-off benefits are that shops can create more jobs; you get a better looking high street and a real sense of community. This in turn, will make the town more attractive and a better place to live, which could benefit house prices.

While Sands’s only financial gain is being paid for talks on the subject, to compensate for time taken away from his full-time job, there have been perks. He was asked to speak at the Asia Pacific conference recently after which he visited some TL towns in Australia and on Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

Traders there had sent him an email asking if they could adopt the campaign. Many of the residents work in Auckland and did their shopping there but within weeks of launching TL there was a change in buying habits. “When I went over there on the ferry, the first thing I saw was a car with a Totally Locally bumper sticker. It felt brilliant and now the people in Waiheke are sharing their ideas with the UK, which is a really beautiful thing,” says Sands, who has a new TL partner, Marc Briand, from Totally Locally Leek, a town known as “Bleak Leek”, before its revitalisation.

They are looking for government funding to take the campaign to the next level with a national fiver fest, online workshops for independent shops and Totally Locally training sessions for councils and organisations.

“At the moment we run it in our spare time,” says Sands. “What keeps me going is the inspirational people I have met. I knew Totally Locally would take off but I never imagined it would spread all over the world. I think people trusted it because we let it go out there for free.”

n For information on the campaign visit www.totallylocally.org