Crystal Palace, south London has an established community of independent shops and services. ShopSE19 was set up as a limited company in 2019 to support and promote them.
The group evolved out of a team of independent local shops who organised a successful Christmas event and promotional campaign in 2018. They realised they needed to formalise the structure in order to get more from the network. ShopSE19 initially set up a membership system, in order to generate funds to pay local suppliers such as graphic designers, and as a way to bid for local grants and matched funding from local authorities.
The network now has a website and social media accounts as well as private messaging between the members.
Crystal Palace is in the unusual position of lying at the centre of a five-point star of different London boroughs, so there is no single council which is responsible for the area. This brings both challenges and opportunities for the group.
Local business owner Kate McGhee, who supports the network as a volunteer, told us about how the network responded to lockdown and its plans for the future.
“Local businesses are having a hard time. Even before Covid, things were tough on the high street. We set up our network because we recognised that we could be more effective if we worked together. At the outset, ShopSE19 developed organically. It was agile and this appealed to small business owners as it didn’t come with additional bureaucracy and large financial commitments. This removed some of the barriers to get involved.
About the network
“Crystal Palace is unique. We are not a clone high street but a rich mix of independent shops, long-standing businesses and newer openings. The area has a lovely community feel. Our network has been created to celebrate this and to help it thrive. Not all local businesses fully use digital marketing or social media, so by pooling resources we can help them grow and reach different customers.
“ShopSE19 has a core membership of 20 businesses, with others dipping in and out. It is a grassroots group and every high street business is welcome. Shops see the value of collaboration and the difference we can make working together. We grew organically from a group which organised one event (#SE19Lates), to a community hub through social media and peer-to-peer support network for our members. We also share local knowledge (such as when fake £50 notes were circulating in the area) and look out for each other.”
“During lockdown, the group was a lifeline. We were supporting each other through WhatsApp and email. We connected with a local company (Mediagang) who made street stencils for us to ensure safer queuing outside local pharmacies and other essential businesses which stayed open. By early April we had worked with other local volunteers to set up a business directory to create a local hub where businesses could promote opening hours and home delivery services. This was especially useful for shops and other local businesses / suppliers that didn’t yet have their own websites or online shops.
“There has been some real innovation amongst the network during lockdown as businesses responded to local needs and adapted their services. Many found ways to keep trading safely, for example with home deliveries, new product ranges, digital streaming services, pay-it-forward vouchers and click & collect. Many also rapidly changed their business model to serve the community, like our previously bustling Saturday Crystal Palace Food Market which changed temporarily to a daily market, with a rota of one of two stalls at a time, during the height of lockdown.
“The Brown and Green Cafes diversified to keep working through lockdown. They adapted their park cafe sites to offer deliveries including ‘isolation packs’ of scarce items like eggs, toilet roll and flour. In June, they bought a shipping container, painted it bright yellow and served barbecue food and drinks from Crystal Palace Park. It’s been a real boost to have an extra outdoor venue.
“Local pubs changed themselves to be corner shops, acting not just as off-licences but selling groceries and flowers. They offered fruit and veg boxes and ready meals. Joanna’s, a local restaurant, offered kerb-side pick-up meals and started opening at the weekend offering gourmet burgers through a hatch. Urban Cellar, a local wine and craft beer shop with a loyal following offered a bespoke recommendation service and home deliveries.”
Reopening and beyond
“Ahead of the 15 June reopening, we had a big Zoom call. Shops and services which had stayed open shared their knowledge with the rest of the group. It was such a daunting time and hearing from their local peers really helped. It also helped foster a local culture of acceptance with everyone following the same standards, so shoppers could know what to expect and feel safe.
“Local groups and organisers have done some amazing things to support and entertain our community. Normally over the summer we would have a local festival. It couldn’t happen this year so it was switched to a digital weekend. A TV studio was set up in the library and local acts streamed performances online. Crystal Palace is such a creative community, lots of people were involved and it was all done to a high standard. Our library: Upper Norwood Library Hub runs a weekday streamed lunchtime chat show with local people and businesses to share their stories.”
“What’s next? Usually by this time of year, our Christmas preparations and plans would be in full swing. But this year there’s just no way we can make assumptions or elaborate advance plans. Encouraging crowds is off the agenda, and to truly support our members, we need a much longer period of promotion to support them through all these changes and uncertainties.
“The announcement of a second lockdown was a big blow but we're approaching this one with experience. Fortunately, we had already planned a six-week promotional online raffle with the prize draw happening in early December. This showcases as many different shops and services as possible, shares lockdown-proof offers like gift vouchers and drums up lots of social media activity. Members have been very generous and offered amazing prizes and experiences. The traders and our community have really embraced this as a way to not only support local businesses right now and make them more visible, but also build a community marketing fund for when lockdown ends.
“In the longer term, for the network, we are supporting the development of a local voluntary Town Team for Crystal Palace. Hopefully it will become a CIC or equivalent. We are currently in a 6-month engagement period to spread awareness, build relationships and work out priority themes. It is time to take our network to the next stage.”
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