Southwold Chamber of Trade hits back at criticisms from the council

THE organisation that champions Southwold's independent traders hit out this week after the town council branded its annual meeting 'disastrous' and said it was not representative of local businesses.

Members of Southwold Town Council have expressed their concern at the number of businesses belonging to Southwold's Chamber of Trade and, as a result, they have resorted to speaking to traders directly.

But the chamber defended its position, claiming it spoke for more than 60 traders in the Southwold area and was on the brink of launching a new campaign to encourage more people to shop locally.

The war of words came after town councillors reported back from the chamber's annual meeting, saying that, of 21 members at the meeting, only three had shops in Southwold. The councillors also questioned why national chain stores – such as Tesco and WH Smith – were not represented at the meeting.

However, Guy Mitchell, the chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said the number quoted was only a 'snapshot' as businesses still had time to renew their memberships.

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He said: 'Of the 62 businesses we represent, we have all the major employers and all of the major holiday letting companies on board – you could say all the big players are in. In the summer we are launching a major campaign to encourage people to enjoy the entrepreneurial businesses of Southwold.

'The reason the national chains are not involved is because the chamber of trade is about the community of businesses in Southwold which want to contribute to our meetings.

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'From the meetings we have had with Tesco in the past, how much of what we said did they take on board? Some of the chain stores don't want to talk to the town, while the small businesses want to work with the community.'

The mayor of Southwold, John Windell, and town councillor Katie Flodin attended the chamber's annual meeting last month and reported their findings at the last Southwold Town Council meeting. Katie Flodin revealed that only 18 members had paid up for their membership and described the annual meeting as 'disastrous'.

Speaking to The Journal, Mr Windell said: 'It is a concern. We would like to be able to speak to the chamber of trade and hope they were speaking for the businesses of Southwold. Councillors have been going to individual shops to speak to traders when it comes to plans for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

'However, I do believe the chamber is looking at ways to increase its membership numbers.'

The chamber launched a 'shop local' campaign in November, adopting the famous wartime slogan 'Keep Calm and Carry On', in response to the opening of the Tesco Express store in Queen Street.

It reinforced this campaign a month later when WH Smith moved into the former Bookthrift premises in Market Place, voicing fears that the arrival of national chains and the closure of several independent businesses could lead to Southwold losing its unique charm and that its high street could become 'cloned'.

John Perkins, secretary for the Southwold and Reydon Society, said he hoped the differences of opinion between the council and the chamber would be quickly resolved, as it was imperative that everyone worked together in the interests of the town. He told The Journal: 'Like a lot of people, I was quite surprised at the criticisms of the chamber, particularly when we need to be working together on the town plan.'

At the time of going to pressy, 62 members had filled in their renewal forms from the chamber's full list of 106, although some members represented more than one business.

The chamber's committee includes Charlie Ashwell from The Blyth, Katie Mantin from Mantins Solicitors, Sue Tayler from Southwold Lettings, Simon Hazelgrove from Spring Design and Advertising, Pauline Archer from Home@21 Bed and Breakfast, John Bowe from Southwold Taxis, Clare Hart from Chapmans Newsagents, Alex Paul from Suffolk Secrets, Sue Allen and Annette Mace who are both life vice-presidents.

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