In My View – Colin Hicks: The social high street

| January 2020

As dramatic change hits high streets across the world, negative comments from people who can’t cope with the changes to Chichester city centre are causing distress as they decry Chichester’s adoption of a vibrant café culture as some sort of backward step.

As our high streets evolve the café has come into its own. Chichester has always had plenty of teashops, none of which would be open if there weren’t customers. And lest you should be thinking this is all about the young, a measure of how much things have changed was overheard on North Street the other day from a gentleman of a certain age:

“Isn’t it funny? We used to go out in the morning to shop and then pop home for a coffee. Now we go out for a coffee and come home to shop.”

While grieving for what has been lost is understandable, what is being mourned is actually the end of the old social high street. Shopping was the great social occasion in people’s lives for many years, as was the visit to the local pub, but both are in serious trouble and thankfully the café has stepped in to take over.

These are multi-purpose social spaces. If money is tight for shopping or alcohol is not for now, everyone can live the downtown life for the price of a decent coffee. In cities exposed to the elements like ours, they provide immediate shelter from rain, wind, heat or cold.

Cafés are welcoming spaces that are safe for families and children, many dog or buggy-friendly. Our modern café culture provides a real haven for all who come into town, to shop yes, but to enjoy meeting up with their friends as well.

Foodwise there’s something for everyone: an indulgence, to eat new or old style, local or international, organic or competitively priced, even to lose some weight or to suit specific diets.

Cafés are providing professional and social spaces to help incubate new business, start new relationships or get interviewed for a job. From the gaggles of young teenagers who collect as they enter the legal limbo we have created for 14-15 year olds to the solitary customer who sits soaking up the atmosphere, cafés are playing an important part in the evolving high street.

Colin Hicks
BID Chairman

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