It would be hard to find two more enthusiastic ambassadors of their local high street than Hanham traders Nicola Bartlett and Matt Knight.
They both run shops either side of the road - Nicola owns the Eclectic gift shop and Matt works at John Wood’s Cycle Repair Centre - but they are united in making Hanham High Street a destination.
These are changing times in Hanham, the south-east suburb of Bristol known to many as the birthplace of TV funnyman Stephen Merchant.
One of the landmark buildings is The Jolly Sailor pub, which owners JD Wetherspoon recently named as one of 32 bars it is selling off.
Opposite The Jolly Sailor is the Coral betting shop, which recently closed. Local rumour is that a charity shop is replacing it.
Like any high street in tough economic times, Hanham’s main shopping area is on the back foot and there are empty units but the businesses still open are in a surprisingly buoyant mood.
Next to a sign reading ‘Every sale matters to a small business’, Nicola Bartlett tells me her Eclectic gift shop has survived the past five years since opening because she has tried to take the positives out of each situation, but also because she was quick to adapt.
“The pandemic was a time of great change. Because we had to close suddenly, I focussed on what I could sell online so I created a website.
“Until then I was quite active on social media to get footfall into the shop but I didn’t have a website. It was highly stressful and I taught myself because I wasn’t in a position financially to pay an expert to do it.
“But it did work and the website is still going - it widened the reach of the shop and I now sell stuff across the UK and abroad.
“I wouldn’t have had that before the pandemic and it also helps because people can now find me on Google more easily because there’s a website.”
Nicola says running the shop through a pandemic and now a cost of living crisis hasn’t been easy but it taught her to be flexible when it came to what was going on around her.
“It was a difficult time but the businesses struggling now are those that didn’t attempt to adapt to the situation at the time.
“High streets are always changing, depending on consumer demand. Almost everything I stock is made locally in Bristol.”
Nicola doesn’t think the energy crisis has had an impact on Hanham High Street yet and says local restaurants seem as busy as they were before, but she would welcome more food businesses into the area.
“I think the Wetherspoons closing is a sign of change. I see it as an opportunity for something better to come along, even a local brewery.
“Although I stock local beers and ciders, we are lacking places that support local breweries and food producers.
“I’d like to see it become a place that served food and drink all day and maybe even had a small theatre upstairs. That would transform the high street and attract more independent businesses.”
In the meantime, Nicola is gearing up for Halloween with a free community event for local children including a trail of spooky posters in local shop windows with a goodie bag and certificate at the end of it.
“The kids can have a trail map so they can locate the different posters so it will be fun and it’s great to be able to do this again as I had to drop it during the pandemic.”
Matt Knight has worked at John Wood’s Cycle Repair Centre for nine years, although the shop itself opened in the 1970s.
He says business is good because more people are riding bikes because of rising fuel costs but also because of the imminent clean air zone charges in the city.
“As the cost of living goes up, the attraction to cycling is greater as there’s no road tax or insurance needed.“
When cycling was one of the only options during the lockdowns, people caught the cycling bug and they are continuing with it.”
Matt says Hanham High Street is still busy during the day but he’d like to see more businesses opening, especially in the evenings.
“Losing the Wetherspoons is a blow for Hanham and it comes off the back of losing the last bank. At one point, we had three banks but they’ve all gone so people have to go to Kingswood for their banking.
“Hanham is a much more independent high street than, say, Kingswood and the mainstream brands are disappearing. I think we need a deli and greengrocer, but more places to attract people here in the evening.
“We have a couple of restaurants and pubs which are busy in the evenings, but there could be more. I would welcome that, to make it more of an all-day destination.
“Personally, I would love to see a big brewery like Fuller’s or Young’s take over the Wetherspoon pub, that would be great.”
Along with other members of the local traders’ association, Matt is already planning the next community events including the Christmas Fair, which attracts thousands to the High Street on the first Saturday of December.
“It’s a great event and we have lots of independent stallholders, street food, a local circus group with jugglers and stilt walkers and a grotto with Santa Claus for the kids.
“Every shop has a Christmas tree and there will also be a huge one on the roundabout. This year, a local artist is also doing a whole window display along the street so every shop in the High Street will have festive artwork in their windows. We all need a bit of Christmas cheer this year!”
On the corner of the High Street, the A.S.Golding hardware, DIY and key-cutting shop is celebrating its 80th year of trading, making it the longest-serving shop in area.
It has been run by the same family since 1942 and Matthew Golding is the third generation to work there.
On the wall behind the counter is a gallery of photos showing the shop over the past 80 years. Matthew’s father, Malcolm, is pictured in one shot with his parents, Albert and Eileen, who opened it during the Second World War.
“We’re still busy because when anything goes wrong or needs fixing, or the kids have lost their keys, we’ve always been here,” says Matthew.
“Since I worked here, I’ve seen fruit and veg shops, butchers and a shoe shop close on this street, but then Lidl opened down the road about 10-12 years ago so people can still get everything they need here and there are still people who don’t need to leave Hanham for their shopping.”
Around the corner from A.S. Golding is the sprawling site of the old Kleeneze factory. At one point the land was earmarked for a new Tesco but it’s now being prepared for more than 200 new homes, due to be built over the next two years.
Matthew says: “It will be nice to have more houses, and good for businesses here, but people are worried about the effect on local schools and getting doctors’ appointments.
“Our local surgery just sent a message out saying they didn’t even have a doctor available and told people to call 111 - and that’s before the 200 new homes are built. And there’s also the problem of parking to think about.”
After 80 years, A.S. Golding is long-established but there are new businesses opening on Hanham Street, too.
Recent additions include specialist shop Antichi Decori with its showroom of stunning Italian decorative plaster and paints.
And there’s also the Little Pink Café with its Instagram-friendly pink interior and indulgent autumn drinks such as pumpkin spiced latte or Matchmaker mint hot chocolate.
The Little Pink Café was opened in January 2022 by Millé Spitzer and her mum, Eva, and their first venture has become the go-to daytime venue for locals, whether it’s for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea.
Eva says: “It’s going well and we’re busy most of the time - we seem to be attracting a ‘ladies who brunch’ crowd.
“It’s quite a quiet high street but we’re becoming a destination because we’re themed for Instagram with all the pink decorations.
“We’re a new addition to the High Street but we would like to see more new businesses here for some variation. We have enough hairdressers I think!”