From fashion to book stores and beer shops to the first eco refill shop, Bedford’s Independent retailers are what sets Bedford town centre apart from other towns. As our towns are evolving Bedford Indies have continued to demonstrate resilience in the face of these changes and continued to support the evolution of Bedford. Over 75% of businesses are inspirational independents.

There are many national retailers consolidating portfolios and closures are inevitable, so the independent shops are helping to create a unique shopping experience in this historic town. An air of optimism for the future of the town and support for each other. It was announced last week that Bedford is also one of the 69 towns being awarded 2 million of the 95 million historic high street fund, as part of a bid to transform disused and historic buildings into shops, houses and community centres.

Why am I writing about Bedford?

I first met Erica Roffe back in the Portas Pilot days – an inspiring independent business champion changing the perception of Bedford through collaboration and storytelling. Erica writes for the Bedford Clanger (An independent monthly cultural guide to the best of Bedford) – Bedford Independent (a 21st century new desk for a 21st century Bedford) and founder of BedPop (turning spaces into places) she is also co founder of Explore Bedford. I attended an event back in 2014 in the first BedPop collaboration, curated by the Bedford Portas town team, made up of stakeholders including Erica. We were both working on similar projects to rejuvenate town centres, creating projects with longevity and legacy promoting independent retailers within the town centre environment. We met again in London after having the opportunity to speak to the then Minister for High Streets – Brandon Lewis, showcasing our projects for future case studies.

I recently revisited Bedford when Erica invited me to see how the town has evolved since the Portas Days, a whistle stop tour of just a few of the innovative independent retailers operating in Bedford. I arrived on a sunny summer morning to wander around and meet the businesses. Since my visit three more independents have opened/relocated so I think I’m going to have to go back very soon!

Why is Bedford bucking the trend?

I’m going to share just some of the incredible independent businesses I had the privilege to meet, helping this historic town stand out, thrive and evolve to serve the local community and visitors creating a town centre fit for the future.

What this town centre has achieved following the very first pop up shop, is legacy to enable progress. BedPop continues to champion pop up movement and resonates with the projects I delivered for Ashford and continue to achieve for my clients. With storytelling being an integral part of a town or brand’s strategy – Bedford does this incredibly well with the support of the local businesses, stakeholders including the local authority and the quality publications including The Bedford Clanger and the Bedford Independent.

Independent Bedford in a day:

There were so many businesses that Erica wanted me to visit so there was no time to waste. I didn’t get to see everyone but what was clear from meeting the businesses is that they are supported. Here is a snapshot of some of the brilliant businesses I did get to visit during my whistle stop tour:

Our tour began at the Vanilla Tree a wonderful bakery and coffee shop – great coffee, food and atmosphere – and where we could both catch up on high street stuff. Erica knows everyone which is the key to successful storytelling and she didn’t waste anytime introducing me – there we met the new owner of Bedford’s first dedicated refill shop that was set to open across the road from Vanilla Tree – more about ‘The Store’ in a future article.

We then set off around the town centre: our first stop was Beerfly, an independent craft beer, cider bottle shop and tasting room with beer on tap! A wonderful atmosphere and concept.

Next up was Boyds of Bedford, a menswear shop, moto inspired apparel, grooming and lifestyle products with a side of tweed. A beautifully curated store and awesome events throughout the year, including Bike Meet ups.

Boutique Planet is a womenswear store, with a unique range of fashion, shoes and accessories, on trend with unique pieces curated each season with their customers at the forefront of their offer and delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Our next stop was Blue Glass Wine, a wine merchant and bar offering over 500 wines to either drink in or takeaway, spirits and ales too. A great concept at the heart of the Bedford local community. A perfect stop after work, one for the road with friends and a sharing platter of cheese and meats – If only I lived a bit closer.

Next on our whistle stop tour was Epanoui, a beautiful lifestyle brand to meet Hannah who founded the business in 2012; encompassing a shop, makers studio offering an ever-expanding collection of handmade jewellery and some gorgeous homewares, well being products and perfect gifts too.

Independent bookshops are always a destination in town centres, an opportunity to dwell and interact discovering new book titles. We stopped by to chat to Rachael in Rogan’s Books – A wonderful storyteller, curator of imagination. A wonderful selection of Children’s and inclusive books.

Our next stop was to meet Rachel in Made in Bedford at no 13. Made in Bedford originally launched in 2016 in another location to support local artists, designers, makers and producers and has since evolved and opened as Bedford’s first vegan eco cafe and shop. By supporting local creative enterprise they are encouraging homegrown talent and innovation – supporting the local economy. Since my visit this gorgeous space has transitioned from serving vegetarian to fully plant-based food. We will be featuring Made in Bedford – an interview with Rachel, telling the inspiring story of how this project has evolved since 2016.

There is an air of confidence in this town, these business owners are running their businesses with flair and passion for the future of Bedford and will continue to be an integral part of creating a more vibrant, diverse thriving town centre; despite the challenges high streets are facing nationally.

Thank you to Erica and all the businesses for welcoming me – you are all AWESOME PEOPLE. I look forward to visiting again soon.

Follow Retail Inspired for the next blog in the Bedford series, with more about Bedford’s first refill shop ‘The Store’ and the evolution of Made in Bedford.

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