Independent businesses in Chichester 'should be the future'

Glenn Johnson, owner of the Hornet Alehouse
Glenn Johnson, owner of the Hornet Alehouse

More is needed to be done to tackle the challenges facing our high streets, said county council leader Louise Goldsmith recently.

Guest speakers at the event agreed that vibrant, young, independent businesses should be the future.

Alan Frith, owner of Bearded Bob's

Alan Frith, owner of Bearded Bob's

A survey published by this paper in August showed that many of our readers thought quirky independents were what the city centre should be about so, we spoke to three local independents about the struggles they have faced and why loving your local is so important.

The Hornet Alehouse, The Hornet

Glenn Johnson set up The Hornet Alehouse in March and found the experience rewarding.

Also the chairman for the Western Sussex branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, he said: "For me it’s a hobby so running the business I haven’t found difficult because my philosophy is get people in who know what they are doing. The planning applications and everything, I got Nick to do because he had been through it with his own micro-pub in Worthing and I hired Tom to be the bar manager, who knew what he was doing in that area.

Lucy Rawcliffe, owner of Lucy with Diamonds

Lucy Rawcliffe, owner of Lucy with Diamonds

"Really I wanted to be in Chichester and the Hornet was the area I was looking at.

"There were a few objections in the planning but since we took over everyone around has been positive.

"I think Chichester took a bit of a hit three plus years ago – The Coach and Horses went, The Bull went and The Bush went, The Hope went. That’s four pubs within a very small radius. It’s a problem because if you’re tied they are paying a different amount for their beer.

"We had to be outside the city walls to afford the rent so the hardest thing, for me, was finding the premises. We were lucky it didn’t take long but then there was the problem of persuading the owners to go with us rather than someone else.

"Everywhere needs a micro-pub. They are community focused and they’re taking people back to what pubs used to be like. So it’s all about good beer from independent producers and therefore it’s something you can’t get anywhere else in town and it’s better value — because we are a free house we can buy beer from where we want to, we’re not tied to anything like most pubs are so we can sell beer less than they can."

Bearded Bob's, North Street

Alan Frith opened up Bearded Bob’s in North Street earlier this year after working in other city venues.

He said: "When we originally set up there was no other [coffee and gelato shop]. The nearest place was over in Portsmouth, down in Southsea, and it seemed like there was a little bit of a gap to get it onto the high street — it seemed like a sensible move.

"At the same time Bailey’s opened but now it’s closed down. That’s obviously good for us but that’s the independents gone again and if we hadn’t started doing cocktails we would be in the same boat.

"I imagine the footfall is lower than it used be. I used to be a member of the Chichester BID when it first started. There’s just not enough bodies in town most of the time.

"The cocktails have been really good because we went for a quirky, not your average, site but there are so many other coffee shops that you’ve got to stand out a bit and we have some very loyal customers who follow the whole ‘support local’ thing.

"The majority don’t and it’s disheartening for me if I come in here and there’s two people having coffee but I walk 50 yards up the road and Caffè Nero is heaving.

"The BID have been really supportive, we are participating in all their schemes. They are quite proactive with the events they do so we take part in everything we can to get bodies through the door. Use it or lose it, that’s it.

"With Bailey’s going down it’s prime time to see that actually it’s a real struggle.

"When we opened in January, the take wasn’t what I imagined so as soon as we got our licensing application through the cocktails are now 75 per cent of our business."

Lucy with Diamonds, Southgate

Originally an online business, Lucy Rawcliffe set up Lucy with Diamonds, the jewellers, in 2012 but soon realised she needed a space for face-to-face customer visits so moved to a site in Southgate in September.

She said: "I was online for a couple of years then I was a Draper’s Yard for two years so I had a workshop at home and the retail side of it at Draper’s Yard.

"It got to the point when I was working from home that people were coming to my home a lot and because I do a lot of wedding ring commissions and larger commissions I needed somewhere I could sit and talk to people.

"I couldn’t at that time take this kind of leap with a retail shop.

"The girl who does the ceramics contacted me and asked if I wanted to share one of the shed’s up at Draper’s Yard because we both had small children, which meant we had time to run our businesses and look after our kids."

On what she has found difficult about setting up a business, she said: "There’s always the money side of things. Anything you undertake there’s a huge responsibility so there’s always that playing on your mind that would it be easier just to have a normal job or to work for someone else or bring someone else in so that is hard.

"When I took this shop on, the hardest thing was I had no idea how to. I didn’t know about shop leases I didn’t know how all that worked: business rates or the BID levy, so it was all a really steep learning curve.

"I do it because I can still work full time but I can make every school drop-off, every pick-up, every school play so I’m motivated hugely by the fact that I’ve got a family. A full-time mum as well as working full time.

"I’m doing it the way I want to do it. I was working for someone else for a long time and although he was brilliant, I’ve always wanted my own shop and it was always part of what I wanted to do.

"A lot of my customers have come here to say hello and to order things. I was a bit worried when I left Draper’s that I’d miss the community feel because it is a lot of independent businesses all in one space and you’ve got support all the time and somebody to sound off of and then when you’re in a shop like this looking out into a high street it feel a bit like you’re in a bubble but actually the independent businesses in Southgate have been really welcoming.

"They’ve all introduced themselves and they’ve always been here when I’ve needed advice so it’s been really nice actually. It would be good to have somebody you could go to to help you through the process. It would be nice if you could contact the council or the BID and say ‘What do I do now?’, a middle man just to help because it’s really daunting."

Chichester Business Improvement District

Colin Hicks, chairman of the BID said: "The Chichester district is the 26th in the whole country for the sheer number of self-employed people that live here and Chichester is home to West Sussex’s only university and a five-star college both breeding new business ideas.

"All in all we’re a hotbed for new enterprise and the businesses being created are already making an essential contribution to the future prosperity of this region. With rents and rates sky-high, space for new business start-ups has been hard to find but the business community has not been idle.

"More established entrepreneurs are providing the new breed with a variety of options for growth: several very dynamic and very different business networks meet most weeks, new retail ideas have emerged into our shopping streets from the wonderful retail business incubator that is Draper’s Yard and after conversations with the BID two new business arrivals are opening shared work spaces to provide essential affordable shelter for new enterprise.

"If you add into the mix the district council’s new Enterprise Centre on Terminus Road, the public and private sectors are to be congratulated for quietly assembling an impressive array of options for the new young entrepreneur. As we always say: ‘Be smart, stay local’."

Figures from the BID show that footfall in Chichester was up five per cent by the end of the 2017 compared to the national average of -1.1 per cent.

Data from the BID also revealed:

-21 totally new businesses set up on the area in the last year

-Nine independent businsses made the leap from side street to main street

-Six chains moved into the area