Independent innovation at the heart of Bedford    

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Made in Bedford
Made in Bedford

While the future of traditional town centres hangs in the balance, Bedford’s independent businesses have been defiantly rising to the challenge and collaborating to create innovative new ventures.

Leading the way was the Gallery, working with Companions to take on the café and bakery at the Art Centre on Howard Street, closely followed by social selling space, Made in Bedford and the Blue Glass on St Peter’s Street.

By working together, businesses are creating unique destinations and giving customers new reasons to head into town.

They’re sharing costs and liability and increasing their appeal to a wider audience. It’s the future of retail and Bedford is leading the way.

Guilda Akopians of Virtuoso Foods runs a vegan brunch and afternoon tea pop up at Roosters on St Cuthbert’s Street every Sunday from 10am.

“As a small vegan catering company, I wanted to bring something niche and independent back into Bedford. The best way of doing this was to collaborate with another local small business.

“The fantastic thing for me was that Roosters works extremely well during the weekdays, however they are closed at the weekends.

“What better way to bring Café Virtuoso back to life, than by utilising existing premises.

“We’ve only been open for two Sundays so far, however it’s going from strength to strength.

“Collaboration is a powerful tool for small businesses that will help us grow to new levels, forming new relationships and reaching new markets and audiences in a way that can’t always be reached on one’s own.”

Guilda Akopians of Cafe Virtuoso
Guilda Akopians of Cafe Virtuoso

But collaborations are not just for businesses sharing physical space.

Some of Bedford’s independent businesses have been forming partnerships that stretch across town

On Record Store Day, Slide Records knew that they’d be attracting customers from out of town.

Keen to share the best of Bedford with these customers, they worked with Explore Bedford to collaborate with Beerfly and Full Metal Skillet at Roosters to create a town-wide event that would benefit all businesses.

Did it work? Well the figures speak for themselves, with the Record Store Day/St Cuthbert’s Street bloc party bringing all three businesses their best ever trading day.

Boyd’s of Bedford on Castle Lane are enhancing their business by organising a monthly bike meet across the road on St Paul’s Square.

“It brings new people to the town, and then hopefully they’ll come and check out our shop and the other businesses in the area,” said Boyd’s Tom Answer.

Other events including Bedfringe, Bedford Park Concerts, Bedford Flea and the BedPop Science Labs also collaborate with neighbouring businesses, bringing additional visitors into the town centre and positively impacting on the visitor economy.

Record Store Day
The Record Store Day Bloc Party saw Slide, Roosters and Beerfly record their best ever trading day

Christina Rowe of BedfordBID said: “People have an enthusiasm for being in the heart of the action.

“We see from the amount of interest to the Love Bedford NOW! video featuring Slide Record Shop’s link to this [Record Shop Day] event, that this reinforces that town centres need a combination of good shops and interesting experiences with events being the sort of thing that brings people together and which cannot be replicated online.

“National initiatives can provide platforms for local independent businesses to hook onto an exciting event, benefit from publicity and wider audiences whilst working with neighbouring businesses can, and does, also bring benefits of cross marketing.”