Bedford’s newest independent shopkeeper credits £6.5m High Street improvements for his decision

Not Another Jungle will open in the renovated unit on Silver Street on 6 April. Image: Not Another Jungle/Instagram

The owner of Not Other Jungle – scheduled to open on Silver Street on 6 April – says he decided to open his business in Bedford thanks to the improvements to the High Street.

Tony Le Britton told the Bedford Independent that he made the decision to “take the plunge” because the shopfront had already been renovated.

Tony, who has a successful shop in Northampton and an online business with 240,000 Instagram followers, was driving down the High Street on his way to Bedford Flea last summer when he saw the newly renovated empty units.

“By the time I’d got to the Flea I’d made my mind up. It fits [our] brand perfectly and shows that the High Street is progressing in the right direction.”

His comments are echoed by Sebi, owner of Simply Creative.

“This was one of the reasons for our business moving to the office space above the Salvation Army,” he said on a Facebook post relating to the High Street improvement project.

Salvation Army renovation. Now home to Simply Creative. Image: Historic England
Salvation Army renovation. Now home to Simply Creative. Image: Historic England

Simply Creative, Not Another Jungle and French patisserie, Maison Le Vôtre are just three independent businesses that have been incentivised to open in Bedford thanks to the £6.5m investment into the town centre.

And it is a vote of confidence for Bedford, a town that has been at the mercy of national chain closures over the last decade, from BHS to Debenhams, Beales to the Body Shop.

A history of the High Street

But while the High Street has undergone a huge transformation thanks to the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ), its history shows it has been in a constant state of evolution over the years – a history that can be discovered at a new exhibition at The Higgins Bedford.

‘Bedford’s Evolving High Street’ showcases the transformation and vitality of Bedford High Street through archive photos, artwork and information.

The exhibition shows the restoration projects and community events that have shaped the High Street Heritage Action Zone over the past four years and presents artwork created as part of the scheme’s community engagement project. These artistic renderings offer a glimpse into the future, envisioning what Bedford’s High Street might become in the years to come.

It’s free to enter and is on until Monday 1 April.

Transforming Bedford’s High Street

The Bedford High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) is a joint project between Bedford Borough Council and Historic England, in partnership with BedfordBID and the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

Building works as part of the HSHAZ project have seen the transformation of six shopfronts – All Ears, The Blue Monk, Sundae’s Gelato, the former Goldings building, The Medic Clinic and the Salvation Army building – in the town centre, preserving and enhancing the town’s rich architectural history.

The façade of the Corn Exchange was also improved and maintenance and de-branding work is currently underway at the former Debenhams building.

The HSHAZ programme has also funded a number of public realm improvements, including the repaving of Silver Street (around The Faces) and the widening of the High Street’s pavement.

Culture and heritage at the heart of the High Street

Another facet of the funding has seen a programme of community and cultural events, including a walking tour of Bedford High Street, residents sharing stories of past events and former shops, and a look at Bedford’s important lacemaking heritage.

Cultural activities have included vibrant 3D art produced by a world-renowned illusion artist and the chance for people to create their own mini versions of high street buildings.

Read: High street 3D illusion art captures public imagination

The total funding for the High Street Heritage Action Zone project was around £6.5 million, including, from Historic England, £1.7 million capital projects funding and £80,000 cultural programme funding, £2,728,255 funding from Bedford Borough Council and over £2 million in match funding.

“This remarkable project is exactly what Historic England envisaged when developing High Street Heritage Action Zones – bringing places to life economically and culturally through their history and their historic buildings,” said Tony Calladine, East of England regional director of Historic England.

“It’s been such a pleasure to work in partnership with Bedford Borough Council and many other partners and to see the transformation of Bedford’s town centre.

“The restored shopfronts in particular look stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing what is next for Bedford and how this regenerative energy continues into the future.

“It truly is an attractive and engaging place for people to live, work and visit. The Bedford’s Evolving High Street display shows how the town centre has changed over time and how we can look to the past to influence our future direction of travel.”

Councillor Andrea Spice (Conservative), portfolio holder for town centres and planning, said the council was thrilled to showcase the exhibition at the Higgins Bedford.

“It serves as a testament to the dedication and collaboration of all involved in the High Street Heritage Action Zone programme. It is a celebration of our heritage, our community, and the ongoing revitalisation of our High Street.

“Between January 2020, just before the project started and the pandemic, to the latest figures of January 2024, footfall has increased on the High Street by an impressive 32.5%!”

Historic buildings

Through the work of the High Street Heritage Action Zone, the incredible Bedford Shire Hall was upgraded to Grade II* listing, recognising its high level of special architectural and historic interest.

The magnificent Shire Hall. Image: Historic England

Bedford Corn Exchange was listed at Grade II and new information was added to the list entry for the Grade II* listed Harpur Suite, giving more detail on the history of this impressive public building.

List entries throughout the High Street Heritage Action Zone have been enhanced to better explain the buildings’ history and the reasons why they are listed.

You can read more about the opening of Not Another Jungle in the April issue of the Bedford Clanger.