Cel­e­brate lo­cal heroes!

Caro­line Quentin has some­thing spe­cial in store for Christ­mas – she’s go­ing off­line and into the shops

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Caro­line Quentin on the joy of buy­ing loved ones gifts in shops

I’m plan­ning a tra­di­tional Christ­mas: tur­key, mince pies, a REAL tree, and I’m go­ing to browse for presents the old-fash­ioned way – in the shops! I want to hold, sniff or feel the gifts I’m giv­ing be­fore I wrap them.

Last year, I re­lied on the in­ter­net for presents. I’d been busy and it was con­ve­nient, but this time round I’m head­ing off to my lo­cal lit­tle town. It has a few well-known brand names but, like a lot of other farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties, it’s strug­gled to main­tain a high street that has any­thing other than char­ity shops and book­mak­ers.

When times are tough, the lo­cal shops suf­fer and su­per­stores dom­i­nate. But a few years ago, lo­cal busi­ness peo­ple got to­gether and re­vived a run-down un­der-cover mar­ket. It’s not ex­actly the Burlington Ar­cade, but once a week, it’s a hive of ac­tiv­ity where I can buy all sorts of in­ter­est­ing and lo­cally pro­duced goods: chilli sauces made in Devon from lo­cally grown chill­ies; a stall sell­ing home-made cakes; and an­other of­fer­ing hand­made craft items – peg bags and padded coat hang­ers – all unique, beau­ti­ful and en­sur­ing that a lo­cal char­ity ben­e­fits from ev­ery sale.

On Fri­days, a mo­bile fish stall ar­rives, heav­ing with world-class fish and crus­tacea, all caught in the waters around Devon and Corn­wall. There’s a stand that’s heavy with healthy plants and, be­cause they’re grown lo­cally, I know they’ll thrive in my soil.

The shops around the mar­ket are worth ex­plor­ing, too. It takes time and ef­fort to poo­tle and roo­tle, as I call it, but there are trea­sures to be un­earthed; a bi­jou an­tique shop run by a hus­ban­dand-wife team and their Bor­der col­lie, Poppy, al­ways keeps me en­ter­tained for hours. There’s noth­ing hugely ex­pen­sive for sale but be­cause of the pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm of the own­ers, the trin­kets are fas­ci­nat­ing – sil­ver thim­bles, a cut-glass gob­let, a porce­lain pill­box.

I visit of­ten, buy some­times, and al­ways learn some­thing of value while I’m there. In town, there are a cou­ple of great clothes shops, run by women with a good eye and knowl­edge of their cus­tomers, an in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shop (yes, they do ex­ist) and, at the last count, nine char­ity shops where I go to rum­mage through the bric-a-brac. Find­ing stu­dio pot­tery and bits of 1930s bone china is thrilling, not to men­tion scarves and vin­tage cos­tume jew­ellery. Ad­mit­tedly, there are oc­ca­sional pit­falls. I have a clear-out once a year to do­nate to these shops, but re­cently I re­turned home, de­lighted with a char­ity-shop find, only to be told by the kids that it was some­thing I’d do­nated only a few weeks be­fore!

None­the­less, that’s pre­cisely where

I’ll be this De­cem­ber, rum­mag­ing in my lo­cal shops, stag­ger­ing home with bags full of hand-knit­ted jumpers and lo­cally made brandy but­ter. Go on, why don’t you join me and sup­port your lo­cal shops? We need to use them, not lose them.

‘Vis­it­ing shops takes time, but trea­sures can be found’

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