EVESHAM is bucking the national trend when it comes to thriving independent businesses.

With high streets struggling across the country and major national chains such as Mothercare falling into administration, Evesham is in the enviable position of having many strong independent businesses.

Figures from Wychavon District Council show that in Evesham (including Port Street), 73 per cent of the retail and leisure businesses are independently owned, compared to the UK average of 66 per cent.

One of those independent businesses is Birdseye Sports and The School Shop, which has been in Evesham for 35 years, with David Bugg the director for the past 12 years.

Mr Bugg, who gave up a career in the telecommunications industry in London to move to Evesham with his family to take over at Birdseye and The School Shop, said that one of the keys to surviving as an independent business has been adapting to the changes in customers' shopping habits.

"You have to keep changing and modifying what you do. For example, we started doing workwear for some of the local businesses.

"Our sales online are now up to about 22 per cent of our total sales."

Tom Tarver, who is a director at Johnsons Property Consultants and also chairman of the Vale of Evesham Commerce and Tourism Association (VECTA), said there had been tough times in Evesham but there was now a sense of optimism.

Mr Tarver said: "Johnsons is a family business which has been in Evesham for 21 years. I joined as an apprentice. I have seen a huge change in the town.

"There have been some tough times in the High Street – during the bridge works and when the High Street was pedestrianised and revamped, we saw a reduction in footfall.

"However, there is optimism now. The Abbey Gate and Riverside Shopping Centre plans have come in over the last 12 months. Off the back of that the Market Square has gone from being vacant to having cafes and alfresco dining. You walk through on a summer's day and you could be in Paris."

Darren Bunn owns Magpie which was started by his parents in 1975 and he said that finding a niche is important for high street shops. He has built a reputation selling specialist hand-painted historical military models, popular with collectors.

Mr Bunn said: "When my parents started up they were an antiques and jewellers whereas now we do a lot more gift wear. We do a lot more stuff online like the models. We have customers all over the country and some in Europe."

Karl Wood, who runs Pride Clothing menswear store, started his business 25 years ago and, as a way of diversifying, now also has a barber and beard trimming shop upstairs, called The Secret Barber.

Mr Wood has found success by using social media to attract customers, because there are fewer people passing by his shop these days.

"Footfall has been a big challenge in the High Street," he said. "I don't think the council should be pushing out-of-town shopping areas as much as they are – they should be trying to get retailers to be in the town centre."

Mr Wood also believes the lack of free parking in Evesham town centre compared with out-of-town shopping centres has contributed to footfall being down.

Gary Tyler's family-run business, Bradfords Carpets Flooring and Beds, has been going strong for 33 years.

Mr Tyler said: "My father started it back in 1986. With Evesham, it is a market town and one of the challenges is trying to reach out to a lot of people because some are avoiding the High Street. Also, the emergence of the internet and the out of town places has been a challenge. We have invested more on advertising to reach out to people, while maintaining our principles and the consistency in looking after our customers."

"It is increasingly more difficult with the challenges of parking. Sometimes you feel like people could do with an incentive to get into the town. I have had to change our marketing a little bit for people who avoid our site due to the challenges of getting to us, so we will arrange to come to you so you can select from your own home."

While saying that the independent businesses are important, Shawn Riley, inward investment manager at Wychavon District Council, believes that more national chains are needed to help Evesham's economy.

Mr Riley said: "A large proportion of vacant units are in the Riverside Shopping Centre (35%) and were formerly occupied by national chains that either no longer exist or have relocated, e.g. to Evesham Retail Park, opposite Tesco.

"I used to be told locally that “what Evesham needs is more independent retailers” however, it became clear that despite having an above average proportion of independent retailers, this was not attracting enough of the more affluent local spending power into the town centre and we were losing as many independents as were opening.

"The sad fact is that on their own an additional few independents are not enough to change long-held perceptions. On top of this, the Riverside Centre was failing and losing national brands, creating a poor impression from a national investment perspective.

"That’s why I decided we needed something attention-grabbing to challenge negative perceptions, to give the independents a fighting chance and to demonstrate that if the offer is right, Evesham is worth investing in – which is where Waitrose comes into the story.

"A great deal of thought went into attracting the right brand and ensuring it went into the best location so that it would address the wider town centre need as well as being acceptable to the John Lewis Partnership.

"I firmly believe that a strong independent sector is essential for the future sustainability of the town centre – these locally grown and owned businesses generally stay the longest and are the most loyal.

"There’s a long way to go but things are slowly moving in the right direction – this has to be seen in the national context of the bottom falling out of the retail property market with no sign that we’ve hit the bottom yet as demonstrated by the announcement that Mothercare is going into receivership."