We visit Staple Hill, where local traders are fighting against the odds to save the High Street

The BS16 area is one of Bristol’s up-and-coming areas and local traders are doing everything they can to get people back shopping on the high street
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Just over the boundary line, Staple Hill is on the eastern edge of the city is still regarded as a Bristol suburb despite being in South Gloucestershire. East of Fishponds and south of Downend, it’s one of those areas estate agents are suddenly describing as ‘up and coming’.

A quick look on property website Rightmove reveals good-sized three-bedroom 1930s houses for £300,000 and two-bedroom Victorian cottages for much less. It’s no wonder Staple Hill is suddenly attracting first-time buyers who may have been priced out of the more affluent areas of Bristol.

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The changing demographic of BS16 certainly hasn’t been lost on former UWE student Freya Buckley-Stait, who now owns The Friendly Eco on High Street, the main shopping area of Staple Hill.

Freya opened the eco-friendly shop two days before the first lockdown in 2020 and ran the business online until restrictions were lifted. Since reopening to the public, business has gone from strength to strength at The Friendly Eco, which sells cloth nappies, toys and sustainable gifts. Current best-sellers include the vegan chocolate advent calendars which are flying off the shelves.

“A lot of young families are moving here, rather than places around Gloucester Road, so Staple Hill really is up-and-coming,” says Freya. “We are very close to Fishponds and Downend, which are also popular with young families and you can explore the high streets of all three in a day.“

“All the shops in Staple Hill are trying to keep in line with the changing demographic of the area and we’re trying to bring the High Street back to life.”

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Freya says local traders meet regularly to plan events that generate more footfall. There are regular markets and Christmas On The Hill is back soon. The ‘We are Staple Hill’ Instagram account keeps locals informed about events and also doubles up as an online shop for independent businesses in the area.

“We’re basically trying to keep events going on for the kids and also provide cheap days out for the parents, too,” says Freya.

Freya Buckley-Stait, who owns The Friendly Eco on High Street, Staple HillFreya Buckley-Stait, who owns The Friendly Eco on High Street, Staple Hill
Freya Buckley-Stait, who owns The Friendly Eco on High Street, Staple Hill

“The locals are very supportive of our shops and we find a lot of people coming here who hadn’t really explored their local high street. The markets are a way of getting people here to show them what’s on offer.”

Walk around High Street and neighbouring Broad Street and you see a range of old and new businesses working hard to attract footfall. The recently opened Forge and Fern pub and restaurant has already proven a huge hit with local families, as has Nom Wholefoods, a zero waste shop with plastic-free refills of food items and cleaning products.

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But like high streets across the UK, it’s not all good news and things are increasingly tough for small businesses as people tighten their belts with rising energy bills and mortgages.

Kylie is the manager of Bunch, a florists on The Square in Broad Street that opened ten years ago. When I visited her, she was making up a ‘DAD’ floral tribute for a funeral the following day. “We can’t really grumble,” she told me.

“We get quiet days and busier days but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern. You worry about the quiet days but then the next day is crazy busy.

“We actually increased business over the pandemic because although we couldn’t open to the public, we could still do deliveries. Flowers are a luxury but people are still having anniversary parties and people are still spending money on flowers.”

Mike Sheen runs Sheen Studios, which has traded in Staple Hill since the 1970sMike Sheen runs Sheen Studios, which has traded in Staple Hill since the 1970s
Mike Sheen runs Sheen Studios, which has traded in Staple Hill since the 1970s
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One of the longest-running businesses in Staple Hill is Sheen Studios, which specialises in framing. It was started more than 50 years ago by Terry Sheen and it’s now run by his son, Mike. Like fellow traders, Mike says business is up and down and he can’t predict how things will go over the coming months.

“Framing is the main side of the business but it’s all over the place at the moment. After the Queen’s death and then the energy crisis, you just don’t know what the next day will bring at the moment. It’s different every single day, there’s no consistency.

“When we opened after the pandemic it was good, people were catching up with buying things they couldn’t during lockdown. A lot of people don’t want to get things online due to scams. Framing is one of those things you can’t really do online although a few people have tried. People like to see the frames and touch the frames. The footfall is inconsistent but I’ve got work coming out of my ears when it comes to framing and I’m working seven days a week to keep up.”

Phil Curtis, manager of butchers shop The Butchers Hook in Staple HillPhil Curtis, manager of butchers shop The Butchers Hook in Staple Hill
Phil Curtis, manager of butchers shop The Butchers Hook in Staple Hill

Phil Curtis is the manager of The Butchers Hook on High Street. It was opened by George Georgiou five years ago, although there has been a butchers on the same site for the best part of a century. When I visited the shop, there were no customers and Phil told me it had been ‘dead’ all morning.

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“The last few days have been fairly good but there’s nobody about today. But it’s has been like this since the lockdowns.”

The unpredictability of footfall in the shop means Phil and George have to be careful what they order to avoid waste. Phil says: “We have to keep things really tight and we can’t over order. Before all of this, we used to stock up but we just can’t do that now, we have to keep stock moving.”

And Phil has noticed a change in customers’ shopping habits, with people spending less. “People just come in and buy a couple of slices of ham or one faggot now rather than a joint of meat. Perhaps they are trying to reduce cooking times and save energy, I just don’t know.

“I’ve been a butcher for years and I’ve seen hard times before, but the last time I’ve seen anything like this was when large out of town supermarkets opened up 30 years ago and killed the high street butchers.

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“Since the second lockdown was lifted, they’ve gone back to the pubs and restaurants rather than eating at home and buying from us. It was like somebody just flicked a switch and it has been like this for a year now. The only hope is that customers will come back to us and buying meat if they experience.

“We’re taking Christmas orders now. We had 300 last year and have 25 so far but it’s still early days so we’ll have to see what happens, it’s not easy.”

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