Since the turn of the year it seems every paper I pick up - and every news programme I see on TV - contains stories of retail doom and gloom. If it’s not store closures, it’s stores struggling to survive. If it’s not the lending banks being ultra-cautious, it’s disposable income being hit by fuel and utility prices and so on and so on.

But if we dig beneath the surface, is everything really as bad as it first appears for the independent grocery retailer? In other words, is it time to buy a one-way ticket to Switzerland - or should we all be buying more lottery tickets? It struck me that maybe we’re in danger of being swept away by the negative hype, to such an extent that some retailers could be having difficulty seeing the wood for the trees.

I accept that the downturn is horrific - but it’s probably not quite as horrific for the grocery retailer as it is for non-food stores. As they say, ‘thank heaven for small mercies’. And perhaps that’s the starting point for us to look at the prospects for 2012 from a more proactive viewpoint.

Let me explain my thinking. I have selected four areas of opportunity in the coming year from which independent grocery retailers can take some heart and gain an advantage. Major events present an obvious opportunity but we should also be looking to exploit the tobacco display ban, political activity and the shift in public mood.

The benefits won’t just be short term. These areas give us a chance to show customers how much independent retail has improved in the past couple of years - but only if we do something about them. This is where the proactive bit comes in.

I won’t dwell too much on the Queen’s Jubilee, Euro 2012 or the London Olympics - you’re all probably sick of hearing about them already! Suffice to say that two of them are once-in-a-lifetime events and the other one only happens every four years. In addition to all the other events throughout the year - Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and so on - we need to be gearing up now for these extra-special footfall opportunities.

Organise the street parties, in-store theatre and the relevant product ranges in advance - remember the buzz around the Royal Wedding last year, which took many by surprise. Don’t leave it too late - be proactive. For example, two of our staff have been selected as torch bearers in the build-up to the Olympics - a great honour for Misha and Gary as well as for the local community.

The tobacco display ban, which comes into force in the supermarkets this April, gives the independent retailer the upper hand for the next three years, with customers at the multiples experiencing delays due to the rigmarole of store staff having to repeatedly check availability. As these consumers migrate to the independents, what better opportunity to keep them shopping with us than by demonstrating a superb level of customer service?

I have been pleasantly surprised by the recent discussions in Westminster and beyond (as I write this article, I’m watching the BBC Parliament channel as the Backbench Business Committee discusses the future of town centres and high streets). The Mary Portas recommendations, the Localism Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework mean a head of steam is beginning to build - let’s hope it’s not all hot air.

Personally, I believe we should embrace these initiatives at face value and do our own thing locally to reinforce the message. For example, I have presented our case to a meeting of the members of our local town council and was delighted with the support given to me by James Lowman and his team from ACS.

And, finally, I detect a public shift against the perceived abuse of power by the multiples. Combined with the attendant outcry about the decline of the high street, the cost of driving to out-of-town superstores and the pressure on household budgets, this means we should be striking while the iron’s hot to encourage people to start coming back to the local shops. Again, we need customer service that exceeds their expectations.

So, the message for 2012 is to ignore the doom and gloom and accentuate the positive.