SOUTHEND High Street’s image has taken a knock lately with incidents of violence, drug dealing and growing levels of homelessness.

The deterioration of the once popular town centre last week prompted Southend Council to hold a summit of organisations, including police, community safety officers and representatives of the Southend Business Improvement District (BID) among those invited to attend.

The meeting, which was not open to the public, was said to have been a success, with positive ideas put forward to devise a new strategy for the future of the town.

Southend BID manager Dawn Jeakings attended the summit. Despite recent events she believes the town still has a lot going for it.

She said: “We are lucky that we have Southend BID. We have events going on throughout the year. A lot of councils don’t run events because they don’t have the money.

“People come here to go down the pier and to walk along the seafront with its nice views.

“There are lots of new restaurants opening in Southend which people like. We’ve got lots positive things going on but we have got challenges.

“Retail is changing so quickly so we are being very realistic about the challenges we have. The council is making sure they have that strategic view and that’s something we haven’t seen before from the council. I think that’s down to the new chief executive.

Recent suggestions in a blog from former council leader Nigel Holdcroft include reintroducing traffic to the pedestrianised High Street but Ms Jeakings said she believed getting people living in the town centre area was key to its future.

She said: “I’m not sure they could have traffic again, particularly at the Royals end of High Street. I think how High Street is used needs a lot of discussion like letting cyclists use it before 9am and after 5.30pm. There is a lot of talk about traffic reduction.

“In an ideal world we really need to push the two shopping centres together, but a really positive thing is we have a lot of residents coming into the town centre now and there are more residents coming into Victoria Avenue.

“It’s really important that we get residential accommodation above shops. When we have got more people in town the shops will start coming back and we will have more night time security.”

In Southend, online shopping has contributed to increasing numbers of empty shops.

Ms Jeakings said: “Online shopping has had an impact, but a lot of things are going through people’s minds like Brexit but also environmental issues.

“People are looking at what they are buying and asking whether they really need it. It’s all part of the changing face of retail.

“I’ve been in retail for 30 years and it’s changed completely. A lot of traditional shops lost their way forward with what people want. We’ve got to get through some difficult times.”

Ms Jeakings added: “I was quite pleased about the summit. Hopefully we see the High Street sorted out. BID is helping with its street rangers and events like fireworks and we will have new Christmas lights this year.”

Spurs shop manager James Noonan is also upbeat about the future of the town centre, particularly its thriving music scene.

He said: “The best thing about Southend for me is the local music scene. There are many great venues like the railway pub, Chinnerys, the Dickens and many more.

“They offer a wide range of musical genres, and help promote the up and coming local talents.

“Bands like The Royals, Young Machetes and Bif Bam Pow are getting opportunities that they wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

Waterstones manager Virginia Loveridge said providing a service which customers can’t get online was key to the future for shops.

She said: “We have lovely customers, regular customers who come in and want to see a book shop in the High Street.

“They come in and we can have conversations with them about the books they want. You can’t get that online.

“It’s all about what we can add that isn’t available online, things like a book club we run regularly.

“We are passionate about getting good books in and catering to the needs of our customers.”