Charity shops in South Shields town centre are being hit by a “Marks & Spencer effect”.
The retail giant vacated the town’s King Street on March 29.
Now some local charity stores say that has resulted in a noticeable reduction in footfall in and around the town centre, threatening their continued existence.
The Age UK outlet has just closed its Fowler Street store after profits plummeted and now St Clare’s Hospice has admitted its nearby store may also need to consider closure.
David Briers, chief executive of Age UK South Tyneside, said the decision of M&S to move out of the town proved a particularly “big blow”.
He expressed hopes that a new premises could be found as part of the council’s £100m ‘365’ masterplan to regenerate the town centre, but admitted “real disappointment” after the charity’s income-generating shop had to close its doors.
That decision had become increasingly inevitable in recent months.
The outlet was taking around £2,000 a week just 18 months ago, but that figure had fallen to between £700 to £800 this year.
Mr Briers added: “Closure was not a decision we took lightly, but the closure of Marks and Spencer was a particularly big blow.
“The footfall in the town centre is just not very good now and our income in the last 18 months has fallen by more than half.
“This coincided with an agreed policy nationally to close under-performing shops and the lease being up for renewal on the Fowler Street premises.
“There was also a double blow with South Tyneside Council phasing out discretionary rate relief. Profits were falling but rents were remaining the same.“
“I’m really disappointed we don’t have a shop in South Tyneside now that generates income for the charity and provides a good service and good quality toys and clothes for families on lower incomes.
“But we remain committed that if a suitable site becomes available, perhaps as part of 365, we will look at the situation again.”
David Hall, chief executive for St Clare’s Hospice, admitted the long term future of its Fowler Street store was also uncertain, again citing the M&S effect.
He said: “We have noticed a drop off in trade in recent times. Marks and Spencer and other big high street names obviously drew people into town.
“We’ll be considering the future of the premises when a release clause on the lease can be activated in a couple of years time.”
Lynn Hansom, of the Salvation Army shop in Fowler Street, added: “M&S was obviously a big loss, a lot of the older generation went there because of the quality of goods and we’ve felt the impact. Thankfully, we still have loyal customers.”
Marks & Spencer re-located staff at its King Street store to its Silverlink outlet in North Tyneside.
The closure angered loyal customers in South Tyneside, with thousands signing a petition urging the company to consider returning to new premises in the town at the earliest opportunity.
Council officials stressed its commitment to supporting borough retailers.
A council spokesman said: “We know that the economic climate is making things tough for retailers.
“This is by no means a problem confined to King Street, with high streets across the country facing tremendous pressure and competition from out of town retail outlets and internet shopping.
“We are doing everything we can to support South Shields Town Centre and only this week revealed the first steps in our very exciting masterplan for the area.
“Working with our development partner, Muse, the 365 vision will help us to create a vibrant town centre, offering a high quality shopping and leisure experience and helping to draw in more shoppers.
“We are not complacent and hope our investment in the town centre will act as a catalyst for further economic growth in the future.”
Meanwhile, a charity shop boss has expressed concern for the long-term future of Fowler Street in South Shields.
A section of the street is to be demolished as part of the town’s long-term ‘365’ regeneration strategy.
But in the meantime the top half of the street, on the road towards the town hall, looks “desperate”.
That’s the view of Helen Hill, manager and director of the Feline Friends charity shop in nearby Winchester Street.
She said: “Apart from the pizza shop there’s no reason to go up that part of the street and there’s uncertainty about plans for the block across the road which is due to be flattened as part of the 365 plan.
“We manage to get by because of our regular customers but we could do with the street being more vibrant.”
A source for the Scope charity shop, in Fowler Street, said the charity would “monitor” the impact the closure of the nearby Age UK shop has on its own trade, adding: “Obviously there is a concern its closure could result in a knock-on effect for other traders.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 05 June 2014
Rising rent arrears, increased use of food banks and soaring demands for advice services are revealed in a shock new report focusing on the impact welfare reforms are having in South Tyneside.
The Coalition Government’s welfare reform programme represents the biggest change to the welfare state since the Second World War with a raft of changes to benefits and tax credits to help cut spending and streamline services.
A new report by Helen Watson, South Tyneside Council’s corporate director for children, adults and families, outlines the human impact reforms are having in the borough.
It says that, within six months of the bedroom tax being introduced, rent arrears in the borough rose by 19 per cent – £81,000.
In total, South Tyneside Homes rent collection rates have fallen by 21 per cent over the last year, resulting in a loss of £331,000.
There has also been a 20 per cent increase in the demand for advice services since April last year.
Over the same period there has been a big rise in people using the borough’s three food banks, with a 50 per cent hike in referrals over the last 12 months.
There are 2,770 residents affected by the bedroom tax, with Tyne Dock, Victoria Road and Laygate, all South Shields, and The Lakes and Lukes Lane estates, in Hebburn, most affected.
Meanwhile, the number of out-of-work benefits being paid in the borough has been reduced in recent months, with a 22 per cent fall in claims for Jobseekers Allowance since April – 1,556 claimants.
The report makes grim reading for Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for housing and transport at South Tyneside Council.
Coun Foreman believes the welfare reforms are having a “tsunami effect” and says the Government is “burying its head in the sand” by denying any direct connection between rising rent arrears and food bank usage and the welfare reforms.
He said: “The Government says there is no correlation between benefit cuts and the rise in food banks but they are just burying their heads in the sand.
“People don’t go to food banks out of choice. They go there because they are living in poverty. Having to use them is an attack on their pride and their resilience.”
Coun Foreman also expressed admiration for the “phenomenal work” being done by borough Citizens Advice Bureau staff and the South Tyneside Homes’ Welfare Reform team in a bid to minimise the impact of reforms.
He added: “It is not just a matter of the benefit cuts themselves but also the sanctions that are imposed if claimants turn up five minutes late for an appointment or don’t fill in a form or don’t make 15 applications for work in a week.
“All this is having a massive impact on the ability of people to provide for themselves and their families.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, the driving force behind the welfare reforms, has claimed increased publicity over food banks was the reason for their rising popularity.
He said: “Food banks do a good service, but they have been much in the news. People know they are free. They know about them and they will ask social workers to refer them. It would be wrong to pretend that the mass of publicity has not also been a driver in their increased use.”
The welfare report is due to be presented to the council’s Riverside Community Area Forum at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.
Source – Shields Gazette 22 April 2014