We used open questions which were not leading; however if people mentioned, for example, the lack of independents, we probed for further detail. We also asked our participants about their favourite shops, cafes and restaurants in Winchester. We asked if they felt anything was missing from Winchester.
Respondents were selected randomly to include a mixture of ages and genders.
Most interviews took place in the Cathedral grounds and the high street, including outside LK Bennett – which was about to close down the day we visited.
One of the most popular themes was the lack of “mid range shops”. It was suggested that shops are either “really top end and unaffordable for most people” or “too cheap and poor quality like Primark”. Respondents said they enjoyed the range in M&S and Debenhams, but both stores were too small to meet their needs. When we asked what mid-range shops they would like to see, GAP, Zara and John Lewis were nearly always mentioned as prime examples.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of people were also upset about the lack of independent shops. We asked people why they were upset about this and the general feeling was that Winchester is a “traditional city” – but the shops no longer reflect this. We were told that smaller shops make Winchester what it is, differentiating the city from Southampton. Many people said Winchester used to be “nice to walk around and browse even if not intending to buy anything” but with so many shops closing down, this was no longer the case.
The lack of shops for mature shoppers was of particular concern. LK Bennett and Cadogan’s both had a core base of customers who would especially miss them.
Independents Are Sorely Missed
Our participants had this to say about the lack of independent stores in Winchester.
- “City centres are becoming homogenised”
- “Rents are going up and it’s no wonder they can’t compete. Not as good as it used to be”
- “Becoming just like any other high street”
- “Uninteresting and can’t believe they are always closing down”
- “Part of the pleasure used to be seeing city centres with small businesses – something to remember when you were going by”
- “A lot of chain shops opening up on the high street which you see in all cities around the country”
- “An area with people with money to spend and you get the quality with the independent shops. Whereas salisbury has a lot of independent shops they are all disappearing from Winchester”
- “Winchester no longer feels special and unique”
Despite people being upset about the independent shops, they weren’t surprised, accepting that they stood no chance when rates were so high.
Overall, the upcoming opening of TK Maxx was not met with overwhelming joy, but our participants mostly accepted that the Brooks Centre is the right place for it. It was suggested that TK Maxx could bring new life to the Brooks Centre, which is in “desperate need of rejuvenation”.