In the days before the words ‘I’m not a cat’ became famous, things seemed so different.

The pace of change is now such that we are becoming used to surprises and yet when Beaconsfield topped a retail league table last week, it still needed some kind of explanation.

Retail league tables in the pre-Zoom era were generally dominated by the familiar centres and, while the position of Cambridge at the top of the HDH Vitality Rankings two years ago was an eye opener, Westfield London, Knightsbridge and Chelsea were in second, third and fourth places.

But, despite everything that has happened in the last year, we can’t be the only ones scratching our heads at the Buckinghamshire town’s place at the top this time. Henley’s second place can be, at least partly, explained by its prestige, affluence and fame.

It seems people buying the essentials from their local towns has made them more vital and more relevant and will likely make them more distinct.

That might be an oddity of lockdown but if working from home continues, then local shops might continue their new importance.

It might be too much to expect all the corner shops, long-since converted to houses, to go back to their original retail intention but the town centres have a potential new life.

As Philip Brown reports, shops in prime locations which have closed, remain fitted out and suitable for alternative uses.

Ironically, while online shopping, accelerated by Covid lockdowns and restrictions, has led to reduced rents and new retailers, all the time those restrictions remain in place we can’t use them.

And, despite the optimism, the cloud hasn’t quite lifted yet. Just count the number of times people use the word ‘hopefully’ in conversations  about how or when they might be able to operate freely again.

It has the feel of the start of a speedway heat, where the riders are itching for the tape to go up, ready to go full throttle, but the tape just doesn’t lift.

Our hope is some clear intention to allow business to thrive in the real world is announced soon. Until then, at least we have Rod Ponton and Jackie Weaver to amuse us.

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