What’s wrong with Leicester?
I’ve been honoured to write about Leicester for more than 10 years on this blog. In that time I’ve seen a definite increase in the quality and quantity of food and drink businesses in the city. It’s been a pleasure to ride the wave. But I know it’s not easy for the small businesses out there. So what’s wrong with Leicester?
Compared to decades past, the city is much prettier and more vibrant. The crime rate is about average for a UK city. We have benefited from millions in EU funding and private investment. PPL PRS alone brought 200 new jobs to the city when it landed in 2018. £50m of private money is building a hotel and office complex on Vaughan Way. Our population grows at a rate of around 3% each year.
Trouble at mill
Leicester has its problems like anywhere else. But you could point to all of these factors as potential benefits for local foodies. However, small food and drink businesses are struggling. And struggling more than they should. A decrease in footfall in June this year has been widely reported across the country. The Guardian reports a 4.5% slump on the high street and 2.4% decrease in shopping centres.
These numbers are big news, and difficult for any business to cope with. However, for small food and drink businesses in Leicester, I am hearing that they are anything around 10-15% down on last year. These kind of numbers are enough to put businesses under.
Consumers are buying experiences, not things. I get that. So great food experiences should be doing well? We have lost a number of high profile casual dining chains in recent times. They expanded too fast, and they lost the spark that made their original venue unique. But we have lost even higher numbers of independents.
It’s a Leicester thing
I often hear that Nottingham and Birmingham are more protective of their foodie gems, and that independent bars and restaurants are flourishing. That the street food scene is stronger. That the bar scene is better.
Delilah is a great example. A fantastic deli, an incredible building. It was so exciting when it opened. Voted best deli in the country. I loved having lunch there. Their wine selection was great. And now closed. They can make their Nottingham branch work, but they couldn’t make it happen in Leicester.
But I know Leicester has amazing bartenders. They win national competitions all the time. I know that the likes of Canteen and Last Friday provide heck of good street food events. Admittedly, most of the traders are coming in from outside – but they are coming here. We have a network of amazing local producers and Leicestershire has a serious food pedigree. I visit cafes and eateries that provide beautiful quality food, impeccable service and great value for money. I write about them all the time. So why are these businesses and ventures struggling so much?
Is it broken?
Sadly I don’t have an answer. I now see the exodus of people leaving the city after 5pm and heading straight home. There are empty streets and closed venues, particularly on Mondays when so much of the city seems to simply shut its doors as the footfall is so low it would cost them money to remain open. I hear people who are unwilling to visit the city centre in the evening because of parking, perceptions of safety and a general lack of interest.
I come across old blog posts all the time for venues that have closed. And I have to put a sad little edit at the top to let readers know they can no longer be visited. It’s bound to happen in 10 years, but it feels like I have to do it a lot.
The #SupportLeicesterLocal hashtag has been a great way for businesses to build up their profiles on social media. But we need more than a hashtag to help our city centre to work. There are success stories out there. And there is so, so much potential. So, I challenge every person who reads this to start living the hashtag. #SupportLeicesterLocal when you buy your lunch. Bring a friend out to dinner. Arrange to meet colleagues at a street food event. Nurture your independent food and drink producers – actively seek them out. It’s easy to drive to town, park in the Highcross and never set foot outside of the mall. But it isn’t that much effort to walk a little further and support great quality products made by people with a passion.
I wish it was as easy as writing a blog post to understand the problems and to wave a magic wand that fixes them. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Is there a problem with Leicester? Maybe I’ve got it wrong! I hope so… Also, let me know your foodie gems. What can you eat and drink in Leicester that you don’t find anywhere else? Where do you eat that makes our city great?