Locals are being urged to get behind Cookstown after it was nominated as Champion of the High Street in the Great British High Street awards
Local representative Cllr Wilbert Buchanan, DUP, has hailed Cookstown for its ‘family orientated businesses.’
Speaking to the Mid Ulster Mail this week, Cllr Mark Glasgow, UUP, also enthused that the strong community spirit is one reason the town centre is able to compete against the lure of shopping online.
It comes as the town centre was recently shortlisted as a Champion of the High Street in this year’s annual Great British High Street contest, which has been extended to include Northern Ireland for the very first time.
Having been shortlisted alongside fellow local towns Portadown and Omagh, the Champion High Street category awards the best high street in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The high streets are judged on four pillars of success: Community, Customer Experience, Environment and Digital Transformation.
As well as an inspection of the towns, a public vote measured by social posts with the special Cookstown hashtag #GBHSCookstown will be counted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
These posts will be aggregated by location and as a percentage of the estimated population, contributing 30 per cent to the high street’s final score.
And it seems Cookstown is already relishing in its success upon being nominated: ‘‘I was in town on Saturday doing my ususal shopping in the market, and the buzz in the town was absolutely fantastic,’’ Cllr Glasgow enthused.
‘‘Everybody is so upbeat and excited, like every competition which comes to Cookstown, our people always rally together and it is such a big talking point. The judges were here last week and no matter what, they were going to see ‘‘Cookstown in its full element - because Cookstown is always in its full element every day of the week!
‘‘There is a big push on social media through the council, the team in Cookstown is doing an absolutely amazing job.
‘‘It seems like no matter what age or generation people are, even those who have never used social media in their lives, are rallying and really getting the hashtag going. People who are living in America and across the world have been showing their support, and that just really proves how much Cookstown is in this to win.’’
Pointing to its wide street as just one of the many reasons Cookstown is so special, Cllr Glasgow adds: ‘‘What you see in Cookstown today is what it is like every day of the week.
‘‘It’s the beauty of the tree-lined street, 365 days of the year those trees always look good - whether it be summer, spring, winter or autumn.
‘The people and the local businesses make Cookstown the town it is today.
‘‘The businesses have helped create such a feeling of teamwork which has developed into their customer base and into the wider community. There is a fantastic community spirit.’’
But with such stiff competition from online retailers, business owners throughout Northern Ireland have taken to social media throughout recent months in attempts to rally the public in the lead-up to Christmas, urging shoppers to support with their feet the local independent shops and restaurants which make up their home towns.
But Cllr Glasgow reveals that whilst the implications from online retailers can cause significant challenges, he believes Cookstown’s strength lies within its in-store customer service.
‘‘You can see in different towns, where online has cost businesses and the independent shops have taken a hit.
‘‘What benefits Cookstown is there is a lot of well established independent retailers on both sides of the street that have been there for many years.
‘‘I think that is what Cookstown is renowned for, and also why the people have continued to support Cookstown locally because you’re not going to get the things you can get here online.
‘‘You’re not going to buy your newspapers online, you’re not really going to get your shoes online - it’s for things like that people want to actually go into town and talk to people. No matter what, you’re getting what you came out for yet you are going to get a good deal, a good product and fantastic customer care.’’
With the issue of loneliness at the forefront of people’s minds as we enter the build-up to the festive season once again, Cllr Glasgow reveals his passionate belief that people should stay independent where possible, going out to grocery shop rather than relying on the internet.
He explains: ‘‘I live in a rural area, and I always tell people at the very least go out and do their shopping in person.
‘‘We’re coming to that time of year again where it is cold and it gets darker earlier, and people do tend to feel down as we’re coming into the long winter.
‘‘Online shopping is a disaster due to the way it keeps people in the house and then they don’t end up getting out and about socialising.
‘‘Going into Cookstown’s town centre gets people out of the house and actually meeting others. Getting out and talking to other people makes us feel good about ourselves, it keeps us upbeat and it keeps us well tuned into what is actually happening in our local town.
‘‘I know if I go into the local market on a Saturday to grab one thing, very often I’ll be at least a couple of hours because you just never know who you are going to bump into.
‘‘In fact, friends of mine come into Cookstown all the way from Enniskillen every single Saturday to do their shopping here because you get stuff you can’t get online - and you certainly wouldn’t get the personal touch.’’
Reflecting on the need for the public to get behind the town, Cllr Glasgow said good-humouredly: ‘‘If there ever was a time to get out and vote, it’s now. Get behind Cookstown - we want to make sure it is looking good, and feeling great.’’
This was a sentiment echoed by Cllr Wilbert Buchanan, DUP, who added: ‘‘The atmosphere in the town has been extremely positive since finding out we have been shortlisted for this fantastic award.
‘‘Everyone is so excited. I was not surprised at all when we found out Cookstown was nominated, having recently completed the Public Realm Scheme and the town looks so well, especially with the Shop Front Improvement scheme having also taken place in recent years too.
‘‘There is a great mix of independent shops and well established businesses in the town and I think this award has been vital in highlighting all of the hard work they all do in the local community.
‘‘Success breeds success - and this will undoubtedly also encourage new businesses to open in the town.’’
Echoing Cllr Glasgow’s thoughts on the threats posed by online retail, Cllr Buchanan explained: ‘‘Personally, I think the strength of Cookstown is our family orientated businesses - we are used to dealing with businesses which have been passed through families and which go back generations.
‘‘Whenever you walk into a shop in Cookstown, you know who you are speaking to.
‘‘It is a very personal service - as opposed to shopping online which doesn’t have that friendly customer service or a helpful familiar smiling face.’’ Issuing a final appeal to readers to get voting, the DUP councillor emphasised: ‘‘Let’s get behind Cookstown to get us over the line and win this!’’
Use #MYHIGHSTREET adding Cookstown’s special hashtag #GBHsCookstown to register your vote on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before October 31.