City Centre retailers boosted by Shop Front Festival

Businesses in Coventry city centre received a major boost from a festival held as part of the build up to UK City of Culture 2021.

Coventry played host to the first ever pilot Shop Front Festival at the weekend and it helped the city drive up the number of visitors – and shoppers – over the course of Friday and Saturday.

It saw a host of events, artworks and performances staged in disused shops and in current retail outlets including cafes, newsagents – and IKEA.

From donut sellers to independent shops, businesses across the city centre saw an increase in trade as visitor numbers shot up from 44,773 to 61,709 on the previous Saturday and an increase of 2,500 people on the Friday.

The city centre was also well above the national average on footfall by 5.4 per cent over the course of the week with increased visitor numbers in some under-utilised areas.

The pilot festival was presented by Chris O’Connell and Julia Negus, the writer and producer who run the award-winning Coventry based Theatre Absolute – which operates the only shop front theatre in the UK from inside a former chip shop – working with independent artistic director Orit Azaz and outdoor arts producer Lou Lomas.

The Shop Front Festival was supported by the Coventry City of Culture Trust via the Coventry Great Place Scheme, Coventry City Council, the Heart of England Community Foundation, Coventry Business Improvement District (BID), Backstage Trust and 29th May Trust.

Trish Willetts, director of BID – a partnership between the businesses with the aim to promote, develop and boost the city centre to make it a great place to work and visit, said it was a triumph.

“The businesses are thrilled,” she said. “I have been inundated with messages saying what a great weekend everyone had and the stats really bear that out.

“As a city centre, we always work really hard to attract people in and events play a big part in that. The Shop Front Festival was an absolute triumph and is a fantastic example that if you pitch it right, people want to come into their city centre and support it.

“So many of our retailers are saying that trade was up and that is so good to hear – it makes us all even more excited about the build up to and the year of UK City of Culture in 2021.”

Tina Wheat, who has run Cejais Bears and Dollshouses in Spon Street for 18 years, was thrilled with the increase in footfall.

She said: “We had quadruple the number of people through the door on Saturday. Not everyone bought something but it definitely increased the amount of sales we made.

“I could hear people saying that they hadn’t realised we were there and, at one point, there were 18 people in the shop at the same time – that has never happened before.

“So I am all for more events like this in the run up to and in 2021.”

Laura McMillan, Director of Operations and Legacy at Coventry City of Culture Trust, added: “There is a national conversation taking place on how we drive more people to our city centres and Shop Front Festival has shown what can be done.

“The event mixed performance and pieces from nationally renowned artists and local artists but also offered a range of fun activities for families.

“It should, therefore, be a great example of what is to come from City of Culture. As someone commented on the day: if this is what 2021 is going to be like, I can’t wait!

“And the fact that it provided an economic boost to our city centre is great news and, again, gives the city a sense of what is to come.”

Images by Andrew Moore 

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