A good chunk of The Untold - High Street Blues (Radio 4, 4 February, 11am) was heartbreaking stuff. It met struggling shop owners on Queens Road in Hastings, as they crossed everything in the run-up to a make-or-break Christmas trading period. There was book shop owner Lee, perpetually haunted by Amazon - one customer asking him for a pen to jot down the titles of graphic novels before walking straight out the door.
Then there was Vicky and her quirky gift store selling “lovely things you don’t know you need until you see them” like loose leaf tea and china cups with animal faces. It’s named after the endangered White Rhino, the businesswoman only brave enough to face her balance sheet after a few glasses of prosecco.
And Jez, a former farmer who put his property, family and health on the line to open The Queens Deli. Nine days before Christmas, he was hoping for £7k-£8k to tide him over.
For all three a bad Christmas could see them going under.
The programme put a painfully human face on the statistics we’re used to hearing about failing high streets, with no fewer than 23,000 shops predicted to close in 2019 alone. It did this so well I found myself genuinely nervous as Jez totted up takings on Christmas Eve to see if he had reached his target. He had. In fact, against the odds, they all did. People might have started to “wake up” thought Lee, and appreciate the colourful stores that are likely to go if we don’t support them. With more human voices given a platform like this, he might be right.