During these challenging times we can support communities by shopping locally - Mhairi Anderson

This Christmas, with the full force of the cost-of-living crisis impacting many families, celebrations and traditions across many households are likely to look quite different – not least in terms of the presents we give and receive.

The festive period has long been known as the season of goodwill, a time we typically associate with kindness and generosity. And, while many people will inevitably curb their Christmas spending this winter, for those who can afford to, embracing that spirit of compassion has never been more important.

Over the next few weeks, we will all come across ways in which we can play a role within our communities and support others during these challenging times. Charitable donations aside, this could mean buying your turkey from a local butcher, sourcing your tree from ethical, sustainable growers or choosing to shop for gifts on the local high street.

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One thing in common among each of these activities is the choice to spend more considerately, purchasing goods and services from the small businesses and social enterprises who will truly notice the impact of each and every sale in the run-up to Christmas. It’s usually the busiest and most profitable time of the year for retailers, but this year we have sadly seen more and more independent traders being forced to close their doors under the strain of economic pressures.

Mhairi Anderson, founder of Creative Strathaven Community Interest Company (CIC)

For artists and makers especially, like those who are part of the Creative Strathaven network, selling handmade items is their livelihood. Yet, unlike other brands and manufacturers, the profit margins are typically very small, with any income reinvested into the company to fund inventory and materials. It’s an entirely different retail landscape, and I have seen first-hand the joy that comes at the end of the month when I distribute the sales reports, and makers can see which items have been a success.

Every product sold in our Strathaven store comes with a story, and if customers are interested, we can tell them all about the person who made the piece of jewellery, clothing or homeware they are buying. You don’t get that from your typical high street shop chain or online retailer.

The last few months have not been easy for independent retailers, and I suspect it is likely to get worse before it gets better. That’s where the power of community comes in. Our local customers have been a fantastic support, and next year we want to do more for them including special events and involvement in workshops. Independent retailers can also benefit from being part of a community of like-minded leaders who understand the challenges and can share similar experiences. I have been fortunate enough to realise that benefit myself through Social Investment Scotland’s Ambitions leadership programme.

Despite the tough trading conditions, last month we held our annual Christmas Makers’ Market, and the turnout was highly encouraging – similar to the number of visitors seen in previous years. One thing that we did notice, however, was that people were spending less impulsively and shopping from a list instead of browsing aimlessly. This is likely to be a trend across the board this winter, but consumers still have choices to make regarding how they choose to spend their money.

By shopping from an independent and small business, you know exactly where the products are coming from – more often than not, made in a maker’s spare room or shed – but you also know where your money is going.

The pandemic changed many people’s shopping habits, and we rallied around the local community to keep businesses going. In the face of this latest crisis, perhaps it is time to revisit some of those old habits again.

For gift ideas, visit www.creativestrathavenshop.com (last date for Christmas orders is 20th December)

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