'Sad' and 'Bleak' top sentiments associated with high streets as Brits yearn for better days

  • 71% say high streets are vital to the community and shop there twice a week
  • However, ‘sad’ and ‘bleak’ are the top words associated with high streets
  • 72% judge an area based on its high streets and 62% say theirs has been neglected
  • Poll calls for more butchers and bakers and fewer betting and vaping shops
  • Nationwide reiterates pledge to not leave any town or city until at least May 2021

A decline in the state of high streets is leaving British people down in the dumps this January as research reveals the leading sentiments on local shopping are ‘sad’ and ‘bleak’.

As shops continue to close across towns and cities, new research from Nationwide Building Society reveals that more than seven in ten (71%) people still feel their local high street is an important part of their community, with people shopping there twice a week on average.

However, more than two thirds (67%) say their high street has declined in the last five years, falling into disrepair and, in many cases, vacated by businesses.

Nationwide, which announced last year that it would not leave any town or city without a branch until at least May 2021, believes the key to improving the fortunes of high street areas is greater investment and making shops, stores and services more relevant to the needs of today’s consumers. The Society believes branches remain integral to high streets and, as testament to that, has upgraded more than 150 branches since 2017, investing in excess of £150 million.

The Society’s poll of more than 2,000 adults shows many local areas are letting communities down. When asked which words they associate most with their high street, the three most common answers were ‘sad’ (21%), ‘bleak’ (19%) and ‘indifferent’ (18%). Close to half (46%) say they have felt unsafe previously in their local area.

The state of high streets also has a bearing on people’s perceptions of a local area, with almost three-quarters (72%) admitting to judging a town based on the state of its high street alone. Well over half the population (57%) believe that a grotty or unappealing high street is indicative of a financially struggling population.

Only 38 per cent say their local high street adequately fulfils their shopping requirements – more than half (54%) say that there isn’t enough variety and more than a third (38%) think the shops aren’t reflective of their shopping habits. A quarter (25%) of those who said their high street didn’t meet their needs as a shopper cited high prices as a reason while more than a fifth (21%) said it was because their high street was a generally unpleasant place in which to shop.

But local people are willing to give up their own time to help turn things around, with more than half (57%) saying they’d happily give time to help on small tasks that might reinvigorate their main high street. A few changes were high on the wish-list of people, including fewer empty stores (45%), more big-name shops (34%), more greenery (26%), less litter (23%) and redecorating shopfronts and signs (22%).

According to the poll, the shops people would like to see more of on their local high street include:

Type of shop % that would like to see more
Family run businesses 35%
Clothes shops 28%
Bakeries 25%
Butchers 22%
Market stalls 21%

The shops people would like to see less of on their local high street include:

Type of shop % that would like to see less
Betting shops/casinos 31%
Vaping shops 30%
Charity shops 25%
Takeaway food shops 22%
Pawnshops 18%

This research makes clear that people are calling out for more local unique stores on the high street. It chimes with recent research from Centre for Cities in partnership with Nationwide. The report, published in September last year, found the strongest high streets and city centres house a richer set of amenities, with many specialist and premium options for consumers . At the launch of the report, Nationwide called for policymakers in both Central Government and councils to develop programmes which support the wider business community, particularly those businesses creating highly-skilled, high-paying jobs. This will in turn create demand for better, relevant amenities needed to improve and enhance the local economy and secure the long-term future of high streets.

Mandy Beech, Nationwide’s Branch Network Director, said: “Our research shows that high streets are still very much loved by the nation, despite the decline over the years. The reality is these traditional shopping centres are at the heart of our communities and they really matter to the lives of people. Our research shows that Britons want to shop on the high street, but they’re just not necessarily getting the experience they are looking for.

“At Nationwide Building Society, we’ve always believed that high streets have a crucial role to play in communities. That’s why we are not only investing heavily in our network of around 650 branches but have also pledged to not leave any town or city in which we are currently based without a branch until at least May 2021. At a time when many banks have adopted large-scale closure programmes, we believe more must be done to help local communities thrive. But we cannot do it alone. It is only by businesses and local people mutually working together that we can make a real difference to the future of our high streets.”

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

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