The Cumbrian high street that's 100% full

The ITV Border region has the largest proportion of independent shops in the whole of the UK, according to an ITV investigation.

Tim Backshall has been to one high street that's found some secret to success.

The flags are out in the upper Eden town of Kirkby Stephen. They've been put up to mark an unusual and very welcome fact about its main street. Every single shop is occupied, unlike in so many other towns and cities.

So what's the secret of Kirkby Stephen's success?I spoke to Vicky Wearmouth who owns the Beauty Rooms, the latest business to move onto the town's main street.

She was operating from home but jumped at the chance to open a shop here. "I live just outside Kirkby Stephen," she says. "I had a lot of people travelling to me from within Kirkby Stephen, Sedbergh and areas like that so it just made sense to bring it onto the high street really. I've got lots of new clients. I had about 50 in the first six weeks so that was great."

Vicky Wearmouth owns a salon in Kirkby Stephen. Credit: ITV Border

Just down the road is an award-winning flower shop that doubles up as the town's post office. It's the third premises the company has used and each time it's grown bigger.

"When we first opened there weren't many shop units full, the majority of them were empty," says Rachel Girvan of Girvan's The Flower Shop. "We've been privileged to see the town grow over those years since 2013. Every unit is full and it's full with something needed in the town which is good."

Asked why she thinks Kirkby Stephen is doing so well, she told us: "It just feels that people wanted the town to do better and we've built that together for the community and the tourists that come through just beam. The town is booming now and it's lovely."

Rachel Girvan of Girvan's the Flower Shop. Credit: ITV Border

Part of its success is the fact that most are independent shops with something different to offer. Olivia Williams used to be a teacher but decided to change direction and opened a jewellery making studio which exhibits and selling the work of other local craftspeople as well.

"I love being in Kirkby Stephen," she says. "It's just so great to be able to have a high street shop with loads of local other independent shops around as well and we've got a really nice network of people that work together."

Olivia Williams owns a jewellery making studio. Credit: ITV Border

All this doesn't mean it's immune to the problems of any high street. Footfall, the number of shoppers who visit, was well down in 2019, but it appears to be weathering the storm.

Councillor Sandy Lancaster says: "We struggle like any high street, getting the people to come, but the community works really well together. They try hard to put things on and we try to work together to try to make Kirkby vibrant. It's a beautiful town and it deserves to do well."

So challenges remain but this does seem to be one town that's bucking the high street trend.

  • High Streets: End of the Road? – Tonight will be broadcast on Thursday 16th January at 7.30pm on ITV.