Jayne Dowle: The priceless gift of a Meadhowhall-free Christmas

Shoppers at the post-Christmas sales

Shoppers at the post-Christmas sales

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ARE you ready for Christmas? Or are you still racing around the shops, attempting to track down those elusive presents? I would like to report that my Christmas giving was all sorted last week.

I am not bragging. I am sharing this in relief. Or maybe disbelief. I usually leave everything to the last minute. When I’ve discovered that half the things I need are no longer available locally or online, I’ve had to make an 11th hour emergency dash down the M1 to Meadowhall, the default location for shopping in South Yorkshire. Last year, this experience finished me off.

Christmas Eve saw me still wrapping presents at almost midnight. I was so exhausted that by Christmas night itself, I fell asleep in the middle of the Downton Abbey special. This was hardly festive. Or much fun for my family, who had to prise the Bailey’s out of my hand and put me to bed.

That’s why I have gone about things differently this year. I’ve done all my Christmas shopping without having to set foot in the place. And I can see no reason whatsoever to go, having bought a complete range of gifts, from a PS4 to a bike, perfume, aftershave, clothes, games and myriad stocking fillers either locally or online. The furthest I have gone in the name of Christmas is the retail park in Barnsley to pick up orders from Argos, placed on my phone.

Avoiding Meadowhall, in fact avoiding any kind of mega shopping mall altogether, didn’t start out as a conscious effort. It just kind of evolved. I wrote a really detailed Christmas list, and started picking up presents whenever I had the chance.

That said, those traditional Christmas markets might be pretty and involve mulled wine, but you can’t give everyone on your list a lump of stollen and a reindeer carved out of wood. As I ticked off my items, I began to make a determined choice to split my purchases between online, local shops, the market, and small businesses.

I’ve particularly tried to support individuals who make things for a living – the butcher, the baker, the scented-candle maker. I’ve backed this up with online bargains from Amazon and eBay, and bought as much of my fresh food as I can carry from Barnsley market. And retail parks. These may not be the prettiest of locations but they are home to huge warehouses where the volume of scale means the most competitive of prices. And think of the local jobs these places create.

As I busied myself with my task, it began to dawn on me that I had no need of Meadowhall at all. And that’s when I began to ask myself – is the day of the mega shopping mall well and truly done?

Will we look back in 20 years and wonder why we ever bothered? Will we marvel at the fact that people were prepared to pack up their entire family and sit in traffic for half a day just to get to a shop? Will we be amazed that couples regarded walking round and round in circles looking in shop windows as “entertainment” and “leisure time”? Will we rejoice that we no longer feel compelled to visit these temples of consumerism to worship at the feet of Mammon, sustained only by a lukewarm latte in a sippy cup? Will the thought of jostling through crowds to find an uncomfortable seat in a “food court” to eat lunch out of a polystyrene tray make us shudder in disgust?

There will still be millions – and I mean millions – of people making their pilgrimage to these out-of-town malls this Christmas. I’ve heard of people coming from as far away as Lincoln to spend at Meadowhall. There is only one response to this: why? It’s 55 miles from Lincoln to Sheffield, more than an hour by car at the best of times. Who would put themselves through this journey all for the sake of a wander around Debenhams?

I suspect I am beginning to sound like Scrooge. If you’ve ever seen me buying stocking fillers in Poundland, you’ll know the opposite is true. It’s not just me and my Grinch-like hunch though. Figures released by the British Retail Consortium suggest that footfall at shopping centres across the UK has dropped by 2.4 per cent in 12 months.

There will always be people who regard Meadowhall as their second home. However, there is also a growing recognition that there are viable alternatives. We are all savvy shoppers now, and we’ll go where we can get it cheapest and with the least amount of fuss. Our habits are evolving. The tide is slowly turning back towards staying local, and thinking, before we spend.

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