“Town centres aren’t dead,” says Damian Hopkins CBE

Damian Hopkins CBE

Earlier this month, Bedford-resident and retail chief executive, Damian Hopkins was awarded a CBE for his services to the retail sector and the enormous amount of work he does with the Retail Trust Charity.

With over 25 years experience in the global retail sector, Damian’s work has generated over £1bn in revenue and he has founded, built and sold three successful businesses in the sector.

Read: Bedford resident and retail CEO named in the King’s inaugural Birthday Honours Lis

An early adopter of sustainable and ethical sourcing, he launched a retail mentoring programme in 2019 and as CEO of PDS Radius Brands, works with Ted Baker, Nicole Farhi, M&S and Matalan among countless other household names.

In short, the Bedford Independent thought Damian – a resident of Bedford Borough for 23 years – was just the person to speak to about changes in the retail sector, empty shops and the future of town centres.

“Bedford is not alone,” Damian told the Bedford Independent.

“Town centres are struggling and the situation with business rates isn’t helping, and that needs to be addressed. The government must work with councils to rejuvenate our high streets.

“We need to reposition, rebrand and reinvent town centres in the face of the challenges they’re up against.”

Despite the challenges, Damian said we’re lucky to have such a picturesque town centre with some beautiful buildings and – of course – the river just a stone’s throw away.

Damian Hopkins CBE. Image: Retail Trust
Damian Hopkins CBE. Image: Retail Trust

However, he’s not oblivious to the struggles town centres face. Damian lists “out-of-town retail parks, the internet and Covid” as the biggest issues.

He is optimistic about the future, though, with the kind of innovation seen in Bedford’s Pride of Place (POP) project at 5 Midland Road.

Read: Pride of Place Bedford: turning empty shops into creative energy in the heart of the town

“Bricks and mortar retail is by no means dead,” said Damian.

“And recent indications show that internet sales are decreasing while bricks and mortar sales are increasing.

“I think we’ll see more residential space, more ‘micro’ stores and town centres will be more experiential destinations. We’ve got to get far more creative with space that can be reused.”