Chain stores are driving out small shops in towns across the UK, a survey has suggested. The Magazine wants your pictures of a High Street near you to see if it's true as we build an alternative portrait of Britain.
Four out of 10 of the nation's high streets are "clone towns", according to research conducted by the New Economics Foundation.
This means that "the individuality of high street shops has been replaced by a monochrome strip of global and national chains" and that many towns have become "somewhere that could easily be mistaken for dozens of bland town centres across the country".
A further 26% of towns were on the border of becoming clones, while just 33% were identified in the survey as "home towns" - where a town has "retained its individual character and is instantly recognisable and distinctive to the people who live there, as well as to those who visit".
The creep of huge retail companies on to town centres across the UK does have its benefits. Some people enjoy the choice of goods and competitive prices offered by chain stores.
But some people are asking: "Can anyone tell one High Street from another?"
So with the help of Magazine readers, we are hoping to build up a portrait of the UK's High Streets. Send us pictures of a High Street near you, whether it's a clone town, a home town, or somewhere in between, and add a few words about what your area is like.
To get us started, here are a few snapshots from around the country.
Bryce Cooke of Stockport offers this photo of a street in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, right. "The best thing about high streets," he says, "is the first floor architecture, not yet covered like the ground floor entrances with plastic fascias and logos. At the first floor level you can at least get an idea of what it was like and how it could be."
Shepherd's Bush, right, is classed as the least like a clone town of all the areas surveyed in London. This shot however shows a number of chains that could be found in any town round the country.
Student Rachel Sidda took time out from revision to take this photo of Cambridge, above, which she says "quite surprisingly looks like a normal town" - surprising since this smaller photo, right, was taken standing in the same spot but facing in the opposite direction.
Chris from Bristol offers this photograph of a street in Wallington, above. He puts streets into three groups - branded, mixed, and "charity" where all the shops are charity outlets or are boarded up. Wallington, he says, is mixed.
Tony Janes sent this picture of Cheshunt, above. "This area is known as the old pond," he says. "God knows why - there's nothing old about it at all."
Walthamstow in east London prides itself on having the longest street market in Europe - this shot, above, of market workers setting up has a building society in the background but not many other chain stores around.
A shot of Princes Street, Edinburgh with some familiar names. Scotland is by no means immune from the trend, the researchers say; Dumfries was ranked second highest in the list of "clone towns".
Sidcup, above, from Henrietta Turnbull, "has a preponderance of both nail salons and funeral directors. I can't make the connection." She does add that the photos make the town look more rundown than it appears to her on a daily basis.
Euan Cartwright in Carlisle says his snaps, above, show an interesting comparison between "the old, local shops and the new chain shops that are taking over".
Chris Bown sent this picture, right, of Keighley, West Yorkshire, taken on Saturday morning. There are some familiar names, but the buildings certainly give this street a feeling of difference.
Chris also sent this shot, right, of the main shopping street in Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford, showing that plenty of "home towns" are alive and well.
Laura-Ann Wells spent the weekend in bunting-laden Dover and offers these shots, above, giving a couple of tastes of the seaside port.
Jay Denton sends this photograph, right, from Nelson, Lancashire. "This is what's left of our town centre after the input of a number of planners and design consultants, and the spending of many millions of pounds. We have a Woolies a Wilkies, a Poundstretcher and £1Bargains, a Home Bargains, a Savers. All the independents are gone or nearly gone, and the only interesting shops are the charity shops."
Alan Reid of Leeds offers this photograph of the Abbey in Exeter, the city which was identified by the researchers as the "worst" clone town in the country. Exeter's city centre manager, John Harvey, told the BBC that he didn't see it as a negative thing to have "so-called clone shops". "Today's independents are tomorrow's chain stores and the shops that thrive are the ones that people spend their money in."
Elaine O'Neill took this photo, above, of Scarborough as part of her geography project last October. "Even this former beach resort has now fallen to the hordes of brands that can be found on my local shopping streets in Nottingham, although towards the south of Scarborough town centre, the stores are much more local."
Stephanie Marriott sends this picture, right, of the main shopping street in Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire. "As you can see, we do have a Co-op, but most of the shops in the town are small independent retailers," she says. "I think you might find there is a correlation between the size of a town and its clone status - small towns like Hornsea don't have retail units of sufficient size to attract big name retailers, and because of that rents stay low enough to allow small shops to flourish."
This, right, is Uxbridge - "a nice mixture of old and new," writes Jane Holland. "The old includes a market hall type building (seen here) outside and in front of the Tube station, an old 1960s style shopping centre called the Pavilion, some old windy cobbled streets dead opposite the Tube, part of an old timber built building has been preserved within the wall and entrance of the larger brand new 21st Centure shopping centre (behind the direction this photo was taken)."
James Law sends this picture, right, of Kirkcaldy, in Fife. "It was once the envy of many Scottish towns for the diversity and quality of its shops," he says. "Sadly this is no longer the case. The High street is now a haven for 'pound stores' and charity shops. One shop, Sharps, closed its doors a few months ago after 95 years of trading."
Carolyn Briggs writes from Frodsham, Cheshire, right. "Having lived in Leeds , the States and London previously I'm relishing the small town feel. Frodsham is a thriving market town, which retains a real character - and no high street chains. We have bakers, butchers, a chocolate shop, greengrocers and many more family owned busineses, with
only a small Co-op as a supermarket. I get the impression
that the locals have great affection for this way of life. And for the evenings there's plenty of choice of pubs and restaurants - many of which are also family run.The only thing we don't really have for day-to-day living are clothes shops for younger people - but we've got Chester and Manchester for that.
We want to collect samples of as many places across the UK as possible. Follow the instructions below.
How to send your pictures
The best way to send pictures is to e-mail them to us. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't forget to include your name and some background information about the picture. Please use the word TOWNS in the subject line of your e-mail.
If you want to send your picture from your mobile phone, dial 07921 648159. You can send them from any network or phone. Please send the large full size images (usually 640x480 pixels) taken by the mobiles otherwise they are too small to publish.
If you submit an image, you do so in accordance with the BBC's Terms and Conditions.
In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. (See the Terms and Conditions for the full terms of our rights.)
It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News. This means you are perfectly free to take what you have produced and re-publish it somewhere else. Please note that if your image is accepted, we will publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website. The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures will be published and we reserve the right to edit your comments.
BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the town centre branded the least individual in Britain
RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites