How the Totally Locally campaign born in Yorkshire is transforming high streets

Chris Sands, who founded the Totally Locally initiative.
Chris Sands, who founded the Totally Locally initiative.

The Totally Locally campaign launched in Yorkshire in 2010 and now has supported dozens of high streets across the globe. Laura Drysdale speaks to its founder Chris Sands.

When Chris Sands holidayed in the Portuguese district of Viana do Castelo, he was immediately struck by the actions of an interdependent community.

Todmorden market gave Chris inspiration for the campaign.

Todmorden market gave Chris inspiration for the campaign.

He watched as the butcher crossed the road to deal with his finances at the high street bank. He clocked the bank clerks leaving their building each lunchtime for the deli and cafe just a stone’s throw away and he saw too cafe staff buying their meat from the butcher before preparing the menu’s selection of dishes.

It was nearing ten years ago that he returned from that trip, but its impact is still being felt in towns across the globe today, through Totally Locally, a grassroots movement to bring life back to struggling high streets.

Yorkshire initiative shows how local focus and community spirit can help the high street - The Yorkshire Post says

Yorkshire sees heaviest loss of high street stores in five years

Brand and marketing consultant Chris came up with the concept back in 2010. After his overseas observations, he had ditched the supermarket and his family had begun doing their weekly shop at Todmorden market, picking up all their supplies in one location, from independent and local businesses.

“I started going to Todmorden market and seeing the difference, the fact that it was putting money in real people’s pockets and not in massive multi-national companies,” he says.

“My son loved going as well. You couldn’t get him in Tesco but he loved going to the market.”

There too, Chris, 54, noticed the same community spirit he had seen in Portugal. “The idea for Totally Locally came from Todmorden market,” he says. “When you spend money with a cafe there, they also buy their meat from the butchers, buy their bread from the bakers around the corner...when you spend money with one person, you’re supporting all those other businesses.”

Chris, who lives in Ripponden, initially developed his idea for a Calderdale Council shop local campaign. The focus for Totally Locally was and still is on collaboration, encouraging business owners, traders and producers to work together to create vibrant and sustainable high streets and encouraging all members of the community to spend some cash in their local area.

“It had an immediate effect on the towns in the region with its now famous £5 message and created a big shift in the way the people of Calderdale supported their local shops,” says Chris.

“The £5 message started with the idea that if every adult in Calderdale spent £5 per week in their local shops and business instead of online, at the supermarket or with huge multinationals, it would be worth £20 million going directly back into the local economy, which means real jobs, better facilities and a nicer place to live...That’s a huge amount of money with massive benefits to the area, for just a tiny bit of effort from each person who lives there.”

Chris says he was approached by towns across Britain about the campaign and decided to make Totally Locally free to other communities.

Today, it is made up of a marketing strategy with a tool kit including templates for promotional materials and guidelines on suggested events and has been adopted by towns across the globe ranging from Scarborough, Saltaire and Guisborough to Villaines la Juhel in France and Waiheke Island in New Zealand.

“As humans we thrive on community and small towns particularly are a microcosm of that,” Chris reflects.

“People all want to love where they live. At the minute, many people bemoan the death of their high street - but when did they last use it?

“People want their place to be nice and to be proud of where they live, so just do a little thing to support it and things become better.”

His personal passion for supporting the high street stems from his childhood. His grandfather, Cyril, ran a cycle shop in Sowerby Bridge, a mecca for everyone from children who needed help with a puncture to those who wanted to buy a decent bike to get to and from work. “When I was little, it was my favourite place to go,” says Chris. “My grandfather was quite influential in this area and got a lot of people into cycling.”

His father, David, also ran an independent business, a village shop in Skelton near York. “I saw how hard it was for him. It was at a time when supermarkets were just starting to be really big...things all started to change,” he recalls. “If my Dad had had access to something like Totally Locally all those years ago, it would have made life a lot easier for our family.”

With thousands of stores, post offices and banks shutting across Britain in recent years, leading to job losses and empty units in town centres, there has been much focus on action to support high streets and small businesses, including from The Yorkshire Post, which launched its Love Your High Street campaign back in October.

The Yorkshire Post says: High noon for our high streets. Support local shops – or lose them

“I think, at the time Totally Locally launched, councils had an inkling but it wasn’t as severe as the concern around the high street now and it was more worries about out of town shopping centres rather than online,” says Chris. “The campaign is probably more relevant now.”

“You can’t go around telling people what to do,” he adds. “But you can help them to do things they want in their way and suitable for their town. Doing things exactly the same doesn’t work because every town and region is different.”

Chris describes Totally Locally as being based on “the economics of being nice”. If one town comes up with a new idea, members are asked to share it with others. As such, the scheme has helped to create a network of independent business owners and volunteers on a local and national level who both talk to each other and share knowledge.

“It relies completely on the goodwill of people who care about where they live and the fact they want their town centres to thrive. No one gets paid, no one is excluded, no one claims the glory. It is about the whole community.”

In the spirit of that togetherness, around 40 towns are joining forces for a nationwide ‘Fiver Fest’ between June 8 and 15. Part of the Totally Locally marketing strategy advocates an individual festival where businesses put on a £5 special offer over a short period and use it to promote their towns.

For the first time, groups are now uniting to promote their deals and celebrate the importance of the high street to Britain’s economy on a national level, for, according to Chris’ calculations, if every UK adult spent £5 per week in their local shops and businesses it would give towns a £13.5bn boost.

“Unlike most retail experts say, it doesn’t take millions of pounds to increase shop occupancy, to create a buzz and to start a real shop local movement,” he says. “It takes only tiny amounts of money, plus a lot of passion and determination, to make things better.”