This month is National Independent Retailer month, when visitors to town and city centres all over the UK are encouraged to support the shops, cafes and salons that aren’t part of national chains. We talk to some successful independents within The Brunel shopping centre about the ups and down – and the future – of going it alone.

What’s the future for the Great British High Street? With major retail brands issuing profit warnings and closing stores country-wide, could the prospect of a shop-till-you-drop afternoon soon be a distant memory? Will online shopping soon become the only way to buy?

According to The Brunel shopping centre manager Jane Stewart, not at all. For certain goods it makes sense to use the internet, she says, but nothing can replace the individual, bespoke experience that a bricks-and-mortar independent store can offer its customers.

“At The Brunel we have a very high proportion of independents – around 35 per cent – compared to about two per cent in the average UK shopping centre,” says Jane.

“So we get a pretty comprehensive overview of what it is that customers value in independents, and how our retailers can continue refining their offer.”

Ironically enough, in this age of universal social media, many of the successful independents in The Brunel are appealing to a new generation of shoppers.

“We have some very niche shops, such as the Incredible Comic Shop, Swindon’s only comic book shop, and BarberInk which offers bold, very fashionable barbering – including beard styling – that is really different. Both have a strong combination of an online presence and a physical shop, which is one of the most powerful approaches. It means that customers can engage with them wherever and however they wish.”

The Brunel cites several reasons for its independents’ continuing success.

“The creation of The Crossing, which brought a completely new food hub to the town centre, has proved a great new opportunity for independent firms who are dedicated to providing delicious, top quality food,” says Jane.

“Independent retailers also value the high level of support we can give them to promote and grow their businesses – for example, by helping with the development of a tailored marketing strategy, designing promotions with them and offering social media training.

“Another advantage for newer businesses is the critical mass factor – there’s already plenty of footfall past their shop in a successful shopping centre so they attract the attention of people who are already in the mind-set to meet up for coffee or a meal, or to treat themselves to a special purchase.

“Family firms are also a growing presence in The Brunel – from catering firms such as the mother-and-son ventures McCtaff’s Cakes and Tea Rooms, to father-and-son specialist gift shop Something Different.

“And other retailers with common interests have joined forces to take a shop together – which ultimately benefits them both.

“There’s no doubt that the emergence of online shopping is changing the High Street, but for independents that offers fantastic opportunities. Those who develop both an online presence and a strong physical presence are meeting all customers’ needs, and can look forward to a very healthy future.”