The Value of Local


An intriguing story from the Financial Times weekend money supplement resonated with me. The article, titled ‘What Does ‘Local’ Actually Mean?’, explores desirable residential areas, teeming with unique, independent shops. It poses thought-provoking questions: What fuels the prosperity of these vibrant localities? And how does this, in turn, fortify the economic landscape of the UK? 

Local Desirability 

Property data provided by TwentyCi reported last autumn a correlation between property prices and their proximity to farm shops. It was found that for every additional mile a house was located away from a farm shop, its value decreased by approximately £22,000; and of course, locals used to get excited when a new Waitrose was to be built as this too was seen as an indicator of future house price rises. It seems we need to encourage our neighbours to consider poultry farming and jam making, even if we do not fancy it ourselves! 

Of course, the reality is that those that choose to shop locally are probably more affluent and have the option to live in areas that meet their wish for a certain lifestyle. The presence of local, independent businesses often serves as a barometer for a variety of desirable attributes such as community spirit, affluence, quality, and sustainability. Residents of areas teeming with local amenities, beyond just the ubiquitous Tesco Express, indeed have reasons to take pride in their neighbourhood.  

Conversely, areas lacking these local gems may not only be less valuable in monetary terms but could also exhibit signs of a dwindling community spirit and economic deprivation. Areas of deprivation can also increase community unity, through tight knit support networks found within neighbourhoods. This is not to say that community spirit cannot be met by providing local services, be they through childcare, religious or community gatherings, which in turn will lead to the support of local businesses stocking global goods. 

Most of us understand that independent retailers may be more expensive than their larger chain counterparts, however we understand that they often provide goods, products and services that larger chains cannot match. They may source their offerings from local artisans, ensuring goods of high quality, crafted with care and attention to detail. A price we may be willing to pay. 

It is a testament to the power and influence of local businesses in how they shape the character and value of a neighbourhood. There is a long history of the rise, fall, and rebirth of areas, mirrored by economic activity. Birds of a feather flock together. 

So…What does Local really mean? 

Despite my prior tongue-in-cheek reference to the ubiquitous Tesco Express, grocery chains such as Sainsburys, Aldi, and Nisa can, and do, brand their convenience stores as “local”. However, being truly local requires more than just nearby amenities. 

The FT article posits that the essence of being ‘local’ is not just about geographical proximity, but about enriching the local economy. This is achieved by channelling revenue into small businesses that are independently owned by community residents and employ a local workforce. Such a model ensures that the revenue generated has a tangible, direct impact on the community. This perspective is further validated by Visa’s assertion that more than a third of every £10 spent within a local business remains within the area, thereby reinforcing the economic vitality of the community. 

”Local” sits well alongside an environmental view supporting low delivery miles. However, the definition of “local” is open for debate, particularly in the context of global commerce. A case in point is Shorkk, a small business run by Miranda and Philippe el Khazen at the Whiteladies Market. Despite stocking produce exclusively from Lebanon, they consider themselves a local business. Their aim is to support Lebanese producers who lack a market in the UK, thereby telling their story. 

Whilst this model does not align with the traditional geographical understanding of ‘local’, hence why most West Country farmers’ markets, requiring produce to come from within a 30-mile radius, didn’t allow them to trade,  for many consumers, ‘local’ isn’t purely about geography. It’s about supporting small, independent businesses engaging with the community and ensuring fair trade, even if it means linking producers from developing nations with customers in affluent countries. In this sense, Shorkk exemplifies the ‘local-to-local’ model, demonstrating that ‘local’ can have a broader, more inclusive definition in today’s interconnected world. 

The Three Pillars of Sustainability 

Contrary to popular belief, the quest for local sourcing can sometimes have a hidden sustainability cost. At certain times of the year, independent shops may rely on produce grown abroad. This strategy ensures that consumers can purchase all their groceries in one place, as they might not visit to buy only seasonal items if they can get everything from a supermarket. For example, the extensive use of nitrogen storage to extend the shelf-life of produce in the UK and Europe is highly energy-consuming. This process often results in more greenhouse emissions than off-season shipping, highlighting the significance of eating seasonally. 

While the social, economic, and environmental benefits of local sourcing may seem distinct, they are interconnected and form the three pillars of sustainability. As Shergold explains, these aspects of sustainability are mutually dependent. Without a strong community, the other aspects of sustainability falter. Environmental degradation, for instance, becomes much easier when community ties are weak. 

This perspective is widely recognised in academic and activist circles. It underscores the importance of social cohesion in achieving sustainable practices. Therefore, while independent retailers may sometimes rely on non-local produce, their contribution to building strong, sustainable communities cannot be underestimated. 

Why is local prosperity important to us? 

Polestar has made its B Corp submission. As part of the submission, we had to outline how we support local businesses and the community.  This got us thinking and we came up with the following where we help: 

Investment Opportunities: Vibrant local economies often present unique investment opportunities. Independent businesses in these areas may require financing to expand or innovate, providing potential investment avenues. 

Employment: Locality can be an important part of a business strategy. Through positioning your business near to a university, you can hire specialised talent, who will bring new skills into the area, bolstering the growth in the community. Encouraging employees to work in the office will also generate local income as they run errands or eat out at lunch time.  

Sustainability Goals: As the focus on sustainability continues to grow, businesses that contribute to their local economies are likely to be viewed more favourably by investors. Understanding the role of local businesses in promoting sustainability can therefore be a valuable asset. 

The exploration of the term ‘local’ and its implications on the economic landscape of the UK reveals a multifaceted narrative. The prosperity of local economies, underpinned by independent businesses, not only enhances community spirit and cultural vibrancy but also significantly impacts property values, investment potential, and economic resilience. The concept of ‘local’ transcends geographical proximity, encompassing the enrichment of local economies, support for small businesses, and promotion of fair trade. This redefinition of ‘local’ in the context of global commerce broadens its scope, fostering connections between producers in developing nations and customers here in the UK, often found in city centres providing global goods to a diverse customer base. 

While the pursuit of locality may sometimes entail hidden sustainability costs, the social, economic, and environmental benefits it offers form the three pillars of sustainability, underscoring the importance of strong communities. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for identifying potential investment opportunities, assessing employment strategies, and aligning with sustainability goals. The resonance of the ‘local’ narrative extends beyond community pride, shaping the economic fabric of society and the future of sustainable living. 

By Ella Bertrand on 09/04/2024