The first frosts of winter are beginning to bite in the dockside towns of Gillingham and Chatham â€“ and so is the looming recession. Figures out last week confirmed that the UK economy experienced its first quarter of negative economic growth for 16 years. But even closer to home, unemployment has risen to nearly 4,000 in the Medway area and shoppers are beginning to feel the pinch in the run up to Christmas.
The high streets on the surface remained busy today, but they are punctuated by abandoned shop windows that used to house discount stores such as Poundstore and Shoefayre, a telling indication that no one is immune in these turbulent economic times.
Barbra, a mother of two, summed up the mood among many shoppers. â€œIâ€™ve definitely tightened my belt,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m saving more for a rainy day.â€
Local businesses are also noticing a drop in sales and customers. Carpet shops are in â€œdire troubleâ€ according to Simon Knowles, an owner of a local carpet shop.
Estate agents are especially hard hit. Property prices continue to fall, and the number of houses sold has decreased by as much as 53% in the past year.
Maureen Davis, of Mann Countrywide Estate Agents has had her hours cut. Tracey Vincent, who works at Stonewell Estates on Gillingham high street, has noticed a definite drop in sales. â€œWeâ€™re surviving, weâ€™re glad to still be here. We have had to cut back on staff and advertising.â€
However, some businesses are benefiting from the economic downturn. Discount stores such as Poundland have seen profits soar - more and more people are going into these shops in a bid to save money. Centre for Journalism reporters counted 50 people entering Poundland in Chatham high street during a single five minute period.
Surrounded by constant warnings and projections of gloom and doom, some people remain upbeat. The current crisis was â€˜no worse than the recession when I was little, nobody didn't have anything,â€™ said a particularly defiant elderly grandmother in Gillingham town centre.
No matter how bad the downturn gets, it appears as if people will get on with their lives as best as they can. â€œPeople wonâ€™t cancel Christmas will they? If it takes putting a couple of grand on a credit card, theyâ€™ll do it,â€ said the owner of the Goldbox jewellery store in Chatham.