'Imperative' we shop local: Leeds council leader's call to arms for shoppers as Christmas season approaches

It is 'imperative' that the people of Leeds choose to shop local this Christmas, the leader of Leeds City Council said as he reflected on the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the local economy.

Monday, 18th October 2021, 4:45 am

In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, Coun James Lewis urged shoppers to look to their local high streets and small businesses this winter.

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Amid regional restrictions, a looming third lockdown and the limited get-togethers allowed last year, many retailers and others small businesses lost out on a large chunk of their usual Christmas trading. It was yet another blow at the end of a tough year.

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Coun James Lewis is urging the people of Leeds to think local this Christmas and avoid the temptations of online shopping. Picture: James Hardisty.

"The city as a whole has suffered," Coun Lewis said. "The government lockdowns had a severe impact on businesses and as we are coming out of it, we are starting to see some really good signs of recovery."

It took a huge amount of financial support to help struggling businesses to stay afloat until trading began to improve, with hundreds of millions handed out in grants in Leed alone.

Despite optimism at the recovery now being seen, Coun Lewis understands that the spending decisions made by the city's residents in the weeks and months ahead are crucial.

"I ask that people shop local," he said. "They did it a lot during the pandemic and it's imperative that they do it now.

Christmas 2021 is expected to see a return to pre-Covid levels of trade with families set to make up for the lost year of festivities. Picture: James Hardisty.

"Whether it's a shop on the local high street or a stall on Leeds market, it really will make a difference in ensuring that we have a strong and diverse economy moving forwards."

During the first lockdown, smaller businesses that solely relied on customers coming through the doors were hit hardest as they raced to make the move to online trading and home deliveries.

Coun Lewis said many town and district centres saw an increase in footfall though as restrictions eased and local residents chose to shop closer to home.

And with some companies only just beginning to reopen offices and a rise in home working, it is the city centre that is still seeing lower levels of shopper footfall - especially on weekdays.

Having made more than £300m in grants available to help local shop owners over the course of the pandemic, the city council is now keen to not only support local recovery but to also welcome new entrepreneurs.

Its [email protected] scheme is designed to consider grant applications for organisations as well as provide training, mentoring and other forms of support for people aiming to develop their own innovative business proposals.

Explaining its importance, Coun Lewis said: "Some people might be looking to set up their own businesses and with the Innovation at Leeds scheme we can ensure that those people get the support, mentoring and investment they need to take that step into the industry."

Nine successful bidders have been announced, with grants ranging from £5,000 to £25,000 being awarded following a competitive process to Open Innovations, FinTech North, Paceline, Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), Whitecap Consulting, AI Tech North, The Grad Soc, No Code Lab and Nexus in collaboration with NorthInvest.

The grants will be used to fund conferences, workshops and peer support groups for a diverse set of innovators from across the city, giving them access to the latest information on technology trends as well as opportunities to build valuable business connections.

This mix of knowledge sharing, networking and enterprise-friendly activity will, it is hoped, provide a launchpad for aspiring entrepreneurs with ideas that can help tackle problems such as climate change and poverty, while also driving Leeds’s recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.

But just as the council is seeking to offer support to local businesses, Coun Lewis hopes the people of the city will do the same.

"People pulled together to support each other during the pandemic and as we look at coming out of it, it's more important than ever that people support, in particular, small and local businesses," he said.

"It's part of that great community spirit that we have here in Leeds.”

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