Breaking the chains on high streets: A movement for independent local loyalty cards plans to go nationwide

First Liverpool, then Birmingham for movement that helps customers track down local traders with special offers for its members

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The Independent Online

What started as a regional push to get people shopping locally is spreading across the country, armed with the latest weapons against the chain stores hogging the high street.

Independent shops have been badly hit by the financial crisis, with 18 stores closing every day last year across the UK's biggest town centres. Three years ago, the Government even roped in the television presenter Mary Portas to review ways of reinvigorating Britain's battered high streets, after she concluded that independents had been "progressively squeezed out" by bigger rivals with better access to bank loans.

But there is hope of a revival: by harnessing social media, smartphone apps and a paid-for discount card, two Liverpudlians have launched a movement with more than 5,000 members.

David Williams was walking through the streets of Liverpool with his life-long friend Oliver Press and noticed how: "the fourth Tesco and third Costa Coffee [had] opened up in a square mile of where we live. We knew we had to do something".

The pair, both 23, started a blog about the city's independent traders and, after it gathered momentum, launched Independent Liverpool in August last year. The concept is a simple one: shoppers pay £10 for the discount card for their city, and use the sleek website or the associated app to track down the local traders with special offers for members. Since launching, they've sold around 5,000 cards and have more than 60 independent business owners on board.

One of those is Kate Hughes, owner of the Free State Kitchen in Liverpool city centre, which signed up last September. She said: "For us, it's brought a lot of people to our side of town, which people might not have known about. It's been fantastic.

"There's a really good buzz on Twitter about supporting independents. It's really done what it's set out to do."

And Jeni Wadkin, managing director of Siren, a bar in the city's Baltic Quarter, said the scheme had "helped us to reach a wider market and created a better brand awareness for us. Being a small independent business means that we have a very limited budget for marketing. This means that being promoted through [Independent Liverpool's] social media/publicity is a massive bonus.

"I think the card has generated a lot more awareness of all independents in the city, which is great for all of us."

And now, with a friend in the Midlands, Joe Schuppler, the pair have launched Independent Birmingham, and plan to launch in other cities.

Mr Schuppler said: "Often Birmingham gets a bad press and people do think it's dull and generic. However, on closer inspection, there are so many wonderfully unique and intriguing independents out there just waiting for people to discover them. And that is what we're doing.

"We're not trying to be cynical and say 'all chains are terrible, only visit independents', as that would be impractical. What we are saying is that these places exist and are really amazing, and if you want to try somewhere different or if you feel like supporting the local community and those businesses with a local conscience, then these are the places you can visit, and here is what they are all about."

Mr Williams reckons the scheme could make a big difference across the country. He said: "When we first thought about the card and put the idea out there, the feedback was phenomenal. We think it can make a huge difference nationwide."

A British Retail Consortium spokesperson added: "This kind of co-operation will attract shoppers to high streets and town centres and this is to be encouraged. As consumers are increasingly conscious of how much they are spending, [offering discounts] will become more and more attractive to customers."