Hastings Flyer swings spotlight on the hundreds of struggling – locally owned – Hastings businesses

Hastings’ leading live music website has turned its attention to featuring the people who run the town’s independent businesses in order to put human faces to local shops, cafes, and pubs and remind customers of the importance of spending their money locally – when they can.

The Hastings Flyer has been running for the last four years as a comprehensive music listings and review website – but with the next ‘proper’ gig many months away the site has shifted the focus of its lens to the many small businesses that give Hastings and St Leonards so much character.

The project has also uncovered the fact that around 40 per cent of local small businesses have no website, and many have little or no visible online presence at all on search engines or social media platforms.

“In the meantime, anything we can all do to help them stay solvent is critical – not just to their livelihoods, but to the character and future of the town.”

John Bownas

Photographer Sara-Louise Bowrey caught the public’s attention last summer with her series of portraits of musicians caught in lockdown. This time she is trying to capture an increasingly rare smile from the business owners who run the town’s shops, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants as they struggle to survive the extended economic impact of a lockdown that seems to have no clear end in sight.

Website owner, John Bownas, who is also the manager of Love Hastings – the town centre Business Improvement District, said: “Sara and I really felt it was important and worthwhile to let people look into the eyes of the hundreds of people whose passion and determination make Hastings such a vibrant place to shop. 

“The ‘flyer’ has been a hobby of ours since we moved to Hastings. It’s built up a loyal following and has great visibility, so it felt like the best way of putting some spare time into helping independent businesses right across the borough. 

“Initially this was just a photography project, but it has quickly turned into a mission to make sure every business in Hastings has an online presence – and a human face. So many business still haven’t covered the basics of ensuring they have claimed their ‘space’ on Google and Facebook – even though it’s free and easy to do.

“We kicked off with the Old Town as we’d been approached by several traders in the area to do something like this, but we’ll soon be expanding to allow any Hastings business to get onto the website.”

John warns that it won’t be able to happen overnight – there are around 180 independent businesses in the Old Town alone and around the same number just in Central St Leonards. Once you add in the town centre, Ore, Silverhill and all the other small pockets the number is huge – well over 700.

“But what’s so important to remember right now is that without these businesses getting every little bit of support we may lose a significant percentage of them,” John says.

“All the headlines about business closures are on the big high street names right now – but unless the government finds a way of injecting some more significant cash into the small business sector I’m hugely concerned that lots of established traders will have to throw in the towel over the next few months.

“In the meantime, anything we can all do to help them stay solvent is critical – not just to their livelihoods, but to the character and future of the town.”

The project is still in its early days, but the Old Town site can be found at:  hastingsflyer.com/hastings-old-town-businesses/ and other areas will be added shortly.

Main photograph Dennis Kingham (The Anchor), all photographs by Sara-Louise Bowrey.

Do you have a message of support for local businesses struggling in the current situation, then post it in the comment section below.

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