(Contributed by a non-driving Portsmouth resident who now regularly shops in Havant by choice, thanks to the excellent rail and bus links.)
What makes Havant different? Well, Havant never had any large department stores – those once-glittering shopping palaces (especially at Christmas time) are now standing sad and empty in larger nearby shopping areas such as Portsmouth, Southsea and Chichester; a memory to how things used to be only 5 or 6 years ago.
Havant has lost some good shops recently such as Laura Ashley, the Clarks shoe shop and O’Reilly’s in Market Parade, all spaces thankfully not left empty for long, which has got to be good for the town. No one will take on a shop lease unless they think they are going to do good business. Currently, the largest unoccupied space is that previously occupied by Evans Cycles. It may be harder to find a new tenant for that space, but a furniture showroom would be a good addition to Havant’s broadening ‘retail offer’.
But I digress, back to Havant’s Christmas shopping:
All of Havant’s shopping areas are within easy walking distance of each other – Solent Road, Market Parade, West Street, The Meridian Centre, Central Retail Park, and best of all, they’re all within easy reach of the railway and bus stations, so that’s got to be a good thing. I enjoy shopping in Chichester and visit a few times a year by train but have to make special plans if I want to go to HomeSense, Dunelm or John Lewis as they seem to be a bit off the beaten track without a car. Similarly, the shops at Portsmouth’s Ocean Retail Park, (M&S Food, Lidl, Currys, TK Maxx, Smyths Toys…) are not really practicably accessible by bus.
Back to Havant and Christmas: All the supermarkets, Home Bargains, B&M and Wilko’s (and just about everywhere else) carry vast ranges of decorations and wrapping paper or go to Hobbycraft , a real destination store for materials to make your own or for some ideas or join one of their workshops. Some of the town’s Charity Shops have crafts areas so there can be good pickings to be found from someone else’s craft stash as well as Christmas decorations to top up your own display or use to decorate gifts.
Don’t forget The Spring at the other end of West Street has a huge selection of charity Christmas cards, some gift ideas (there is a gift shop, but how about buying tickets for a show?) or enrol on one of their Christmas candle or wreath-making events.
There’s a variety of supermarkets for food shopping and sweet treats as well as a butchers and even a specialist sweet shop in West Street. (What do you mean you’ve never been inside?!) You’ll find brands you thought didn’t exist anymore, lots of fudge and even sugar mice. Happy childhood memories whatever your age!
Some of the beauty stores offer vouchers for a treatment or a manicure, another way to support local businesses.
But what about online shopping? It’s great to be able to ‘Click and Collect’ in Waitrose for John Lewis, at M&S, Next, and Tesco too. ‘Click and Collect’ is a good excuse to come into town and do some other shopping while you’re there.
However, not everyone is online and/or has a mobile phone. Even if you are online and have a smart phone, it can still be difficult to pay for online shopping if you’re in one of those areas of Havant borough which still don’t have a decent mobile phone signal, especially now that two-level authentication is mandatory for most transactions and, a pre-requisite to any online shopping is that you have to have a bank account. Many people only use their devices to keep in contact with family, but still don’t necessarily know or trust enough to use them for shopping. We should also remember all those people who aren’t online, or who are unable to be online due to age or infirmity. For all those reasons it is really important to have a vibrant town centre like Havant, accessible for everyone; young and old, able and not so able. The day may come when you will need the physical shops, so support them or they will disappear.
The downside of online shopping is the need to be in for the deliveries; my hallway became a mini delivery warehouse last Christmas when various delivery drivers realised that I was usually at home. I realised then that the amount of shopping my neighbours did online was staggering!
Unlike places like Southsea, Havant still also has a good selection of banks and building societies. There are multiple cafes and coffee shops around if all the shopping is too much, or somewhere to arrange to meet a friend.
There is also a great range of Charity Shops across the town, each of which are well worth looking into. Maybe HCS should write a separate report on them since there are some real gems to be found. As the recession starts to bite, the importance of the charity sector in Havant’s retail offering will rise.
And don’t forget the various Christmas Markets – I’ll specifically mention St Faith’s Christmas Market on 3 December. Havant Civic Society will have a table there, so there will be some lovely Christmassy bits to be had, or just come along and talk about Havant matters with some of the Civic Society committee.
There’s lots of talk nowadays about ‘experience’ shopping. It would be great if there could be an occasional market or music event in the town centre. There are some collectors’ events happening at The Pallant occasionally, which is great, especially as there is a carpark next door. I enjoy it when the circus is in town, on Havant Park, another amenity right in the middle of the town. Perhaps this space could be used more? For me ‘experience shopping’ is at Gunwharf Quays – a train (or bus) ride away – shops, cinema, restaurants and Christmas pop-ups, not something that Havant could sustain on that scale.
This is a personal piece. Opinions are the writer’s own and may not all be shared by HCS, other than to promote Havant. I’m sorry if I’ve not mentioned your favourite store but I can’t mention them all!
The important thing is to use the local shops and keep Havant town centre busy and loved, and there for everyone. Any drastic changes in the name of ‘regeneration’ should be very carefully considered.
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