The Love Local Hub: where small business, big business and the local council unite, and why every high street should have one
Several years back, I met the manager of our huge indoor shopping mall, the centre:MK. She told me that there is some truth to the age-old stereotype: that men do their Christmas shopping in a panic at 5pm on 24 December. In fact, she said, on the last three shopping days before Christmas, men make up at least 66% of the shoppers in the centre – and this happens consistently every year. In all the time she’s observed this phenomenon, she has learned to spot the really flustered ones – those without a gameplan. The ones who flit in and out of dozens of shops, usually emerging empty-handed; and then, as darkness begins to fall, the walkway lights go on, and the desperation sets in: until they spy that one single shop or stand that they think, in their panic, will cater for all of their loved ones. So at two minutes to closing time, they buy up armfuls of the same item, and it’s artisan peach schnapps all round for mum, sister, girlfriend and granny.
But now, in centre:MK at least, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here they can find treats and treasures galore under one single roof; an Aladdin’s cave of perfect Christmas gift ideas, right there in the shopping centre – and the best thing is, every single one of these gems is sold by a small business. It’s at the Love Local Hub: a space which brings almost 100 local entrepreneurs’ products together in the biggest shopping centre in the area – a bricks-and-mortar shop that they all share, in a prime location just opposite the main entrance to M&S, which opened its doors just a year ago under the cloud of Lockdown 2, thanks to the inspiration, dedication and enormous hard work of Sam Poole and her team of two.
Something for everyone? There really is
You know how some shops say they have “something for everyone”, but the reality turns out a little differently? Well, I challenge anyone to visit Love Local Hub and say there is nothing in there for them. By its very nature, with the huge range and diversity of the small businesses who stock their items there, there is just so much to choose from. There are artworks, greetings cards, handmade candles, stylish stationery, and keepsakes; there are unique children’s outfits and adult clothes, knitwear, and scarves; there are sweets, cookies and crafts for children; there are artworks, Christmas decorations, soft furnishings – and a whole roll-top bathtub full of hand-poured soaps that smell divine. I left with a bagful of Christmas gifts for family young and old, near and far, and with a delicious Lemon and Peppermint hand and foot balm that’s just for me.
It sounds so simple, but it took a herculean effort to get to this. Several years back, centre:mk agreed in principle to let a vacant shop unit to the community. Small businesses who would never normally get a sniff of exposure like this would have a prime indoor location in the run-up to Christmas – and all they had to do, collectively, was meet the rent and fittings costs. For a number of reasons – not least the pandemic – there was so much to be agreed and arranged, but everything finally fell into place for the Love Local Hub in October 2020. With the shop fitted out and ready to go, the only remaining hurdle was the November 2020 lockdown – and in spite of the restrictions, the footfall and takings took off immediately, with over £25,000 of transactions happening in just those few December shopping days. Now it’s been open for almost a year – taking lockdowns into account, just 33 weeks – and over £156,000 of takings have gone directly into the pockets of the local businesses who have sold their stock there.
In Partnership with MK Council
And even better, MK Council have invested £35,000 as part of their £2.25m COVID Economic Recovery Plan to support 50 women entrepreneurs via the Love Local Hub. This money has funded their rental space in the shop for two months, plus an eight-week business bootcamp with Sam at the helm, ongoing support via a retail business growth Facebook Support Group, and ongoing engagement through regular friendly meetups.
One on every high street
It’s gone so well that Sam and her team have opened another shop on exactly the same lines, in the Atria shopping centre in Watford, which has seen over £30,000 in takings in just five weeks since opening. It tells us so much about how people want to shop, and who they want to buy from. In just the last 15 days, as I’m publishing this now, the takings in both shops combined were £32,000.
It’s incredible. In an age where small businesses are being squeezed out of the high streets and high-traffic areas by high rents and big chain firms, Sam and her team created a chance for our local entrepreneurs to access a prime market. This really must be a major part of our economic future, on every high street up and down the country – somewhere for small businesses to have the same access to that powerful consumer pound as the big ones. In MK, they’ve come together to make it happen – and if anyone can make this dream a national reality, it’s Sam!
So, men of MK – and everyone else who sets out in panic for a last-minute gift – never fear, the Love Local Hub is here, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
Visit the Love Local Hub in centre:mk, just opposite the main entrance to the clothing section of M&S – or in Atria’s lower mall in Watford, if you happen to be down that way! You can also follow it on Facebook for the latest sellers and takings updates, and contact Sam if you’d like to rent some shelf space for your own business: https://www.facebook.com/Lovelocalhub