RISING costs are affecting many across the UK, not least small businesses.

Independent shops in Tynedale are having to face a rise in energy prices and an increase in supplier costs, while their customers are seeing their disposable income levels fall.

Alison Smith, owner of eco-friendly home shop Matthias Winter in Hexham, said: "All the local independent shops are the same - they're all saying that they're worried about increases in supplier costs, and not being able to pass them on, because some of them are quite significant.

"People just aren't going to buy things if you put the price up too much."

She added: "It's an awful cycle, because everybody's disposable income is going down at a time where we're all saying 'we're going to have to put our prices up'.

"But you think if you're going to put your prices up, nobody's going to buy your things.

"But if you're not making enough of a margin on your products, there's no point in being in business. It's tricky."

These concerns have been echoed by Kelly Morgan, owner of Artful of Hexham.

The shop, on Battle Hill, sells art and gifts made by local artists, including Kelly herself.

"We're conscious of everything costing more," said Kelly, who opened Artful with the aim of making art affordable for everyone.

"Because we deal with affordable art, it's about keeping the prices as low as we can but still staying in business."

She added: "I'm a glass artist. With the cost of glass, apparently there's a component missing since Brexit, so everything costs massively more than it did before."

As well as price increases, Kelly said they are also dealing with delivery delays.

"It just feels with small businesses, with Brexit and then Covid and now the cost-of living crisis, it's one thing after the other," she said.

"All my artists are exactly the same. They're struggling to get supplies, and when they are getting supplies, it's much more expensive."

Kelly said she is making small changes to try and keep costs down.

For example, while once the shop often had fairy lights on, Kelly said they are now only turning them on when needed.

According to official figures, UK retail sales dropped 1.4 per cent in March with heavy falls in online shopping.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the fall came after a 0.3 per cent drop in February - the second month of declining sales in a row.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: "Retail sales fell back notably in March with rises in the cost of living hitting consumers' spending."

Despite the challenges, Kelly is remaining positive.

"We've been through it before, and we'll go through it again," she said. "When we first opened [in 2007], there was a recession within months.

"You've just got to try and buckle down and get through it."

Both Alison and Kelly also say one positive of the Covid-19 pandemic was the rise in support for local businesses.

"I still think there is a positivity towards shopping local," said Alison. "There was that definite boost during the pandemic, and I think that's still hanging around.

"There's still quite a lot of people who come in here who aren't confident about going out that much and they like coming in here because it's quiet, it's not like going into the supermarket."

Kelly added: "I've noticed there's still the same number of people coming in to support us, they're just spending less."