Readers' vote will decide who are our 'High Street Heroes'

The First and Deputy First Ministers with Retail NI president Peter McBride (foreground) launch the High Street Heroes campaign at Stormont yesterday. At back (from left) are James Dunbar (head of field sales at Camelot), John Morgan (Translink), Gary McDonald (Irish News business editor) and Annette Small (Irish News group marketing and communications manager). Picture: Kelvin Boyes/PressEye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

POLITICIANS of all hues have united to urge the Northern Ireland public to "vote early and vote often" . . . and for an especially good cause.

First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill joined a clutch of MLAs to launch the High Heroes NI initiative.

For the third year year running, Retail NI and the Irish News, supported by Camelot and Translink, are organising an online public vote to seek out shoppers' favourite independent retailer and the best high street.

The campaign - which last year attracted thousands of votes - formally begins on Independents’ Day on July 4, seeking out those retailers who keep us fed and watered, suited and booted, entertained and connected.

But early voting opens from today at across 12 different categories.

And MLAs want readers to have their say on who was the heartbeat of our high streets, with the campaign running until July 30.

First Minister Paul Givan said: “Our independent retailers have provided amazing support to communities over the last year and this is a timely opportunity to show our appreciation to them.

“The challenges of the pandemic resulted in fundamental changes within the retail sector. Our local business owners responded with energy, creativity and a determination to keep providing a high-quality products and service for their customers.

“I also know that many proved to be a lifeline for those who were dealing with isolation. There is no doubting the power of friendly word or a kindly action. This is what makes our Northern Ireland retailers so special. I urge everyone to get voting now for your favourite.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “There is so much to celebrate within our local retail sector. Independent businesses are part and parcel of society and give so much to the community.

“From the early days of the pandemic, retailers and retail workers have been on the front line, delivering essential services for people, including vulnerable members of our society. They have made a huge effort and significant investment to ensure the safety of customers and staff. Now is the time to say thank you and recognise their contribution.”

Retail NI president Peter McBride said: “This campaign highlights and celebrates the huge contribution independent retailers make to our local high streets and the economy. It gives consumers the opportunity to vote for their favourite independent retailer and high street. So don’t forget to Vote Independent!”

Camelot retail director Jenny Blogg said: “From small corner shops to local newsagents and well-stocked convenience stores – our 44,000 retail partners are the backbone of The National Lottery and our public face. So we are delighted to support High Street Heroes to help those fantastic independent retailers who continue to serve communities day in, day out.”

Annette Small, Irish News group marketing and communications manager, said: “We've heard countless inspirational stories of local independent retailers adapting and innovating to not only survive, but thrive, in response to the devastating impact of Covid on shopping habits, socialising and everyday life. We can all play our part by buying local and voting for our favourite independent retailer in this readers' vote.”

As well as through the pages of the Irish News, the campaign will be promoted on billboards and on dozens of buses in the coming weeks, and Translink chief executive Chris Conway said: “It's never been more important to support our local independent retailers and we're ready to bring more people into cities, towns and villages to enjoy the fantastic choice, quality and personal touch on offer.

“Translink is committed to delivering a greener recovery and building back responsibly with robust safety measures in place across our bus and rail services to protect and reassure everyone on their journeys."

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