Rushlake Green Village Leaf

Streets Ahead article 4

The Future of our High Streets - Reinvention

Back to High Street Futures intro

Long term reinvention could mean re-balancing the high street for a new social, civic and community role. It could also mean new forms of retail such as maker-sellers and retail partnerships, and a new role for residential, small business and enterprise in maintaining the vibrancy and economic viability of our towns.

Whilst medium term strategies can help high streets to re-connect with shoppers there may, in the long term, be a need for a new balance of activities better suited to today’s consumer lifestyle. Towns and villages may need to start thinking about what, if they were to remove everything and start with ‘blank street’, would be the elements that would best match the needs of their local people, and their local economy, in today’s very different marketplace.
Would they need shops at all? If so, what would be the most popular locally and how many would we actually need? Would there be benefit in having more people living at the heart of the community – bringing everyday activity back into deserted streets? If we were to visit this future town centre, even though there might be fewer retail shop fronts, the centre itself could once again be full of life. Ailing towns could again become attractive and satisfying places in which to spend time both for visitors and for those who live and work there.

The impact of edge of town retail estates and large retail centres within easy reach, combined with online shopping and click & collect, may in some cases mean that high streets may need to evolve into something altogether different. This could include elements of retail, but there may be a need to take the ‘destination’ approach a step further into a more radical reinvention of the function of the whole town centre.

To illustrate some of the differing ways in which individual towns might reinvent themselves, the Streets Ahead report put together this series of example scenarios: Although some of the characteristics shown in these scenarios may be similar to some of our own towns, these are not intended as specific suggestions for specific places. In practice, towns would be likely to adopt combinations and permutations based on a whole range of expanding possibilities.

Linfield
This town sets out to make itself a hub for arts and entertainment. The annual art festival is expanded to create three major events every year – one focused on art, one on music and one on theatre and cinema. Community and church halls, the town hall and other spaces are made available free for concerts, exhibitions, film screenings and theatrical performances. A series of empty shops is converted into a permanent ‘open studio’ space that is used by artists, craftspeople, jewellers and furniture makers – and where people are invited to drop in, see the activities, and perhaps buy items. In the weekly street market, an area is made available for professional and amateur artists to sell their work. Free transport is provided to encourage buskers and street performers to appear on market day. With galleries, music events and other places staying open into the evening, a thriving night-time economy develops and Linfield becomes a destination both during the day and the evening. On the back of these changes, new retailers begin to be attracted back – such as a retro-vinyl music shop, an artists materials shop, a second hand bookshop and a drum and guitar shop.

Chrissington
This town aspires to be a haven for antiques, curios and all things retro. An annual fair is established, making use of a central hall and available spaces, including empty shops, around the town. Three times each year a valuation and restoration workshop is organised by several local auctioneers and specialists, attracting collectors from across the district. Several empty shops are converted into a series of small micro-shops for traders selling things like retro fashion, sixties furniture and the like – this retro market is open twice a week and creates an exra buzz in the town on these days. New and existing traders group together to create and distribute ‘Rediscovered in Chrissington’ – a guide with details of where to find antiques, bric-a-brac, retro and objects for interior and exterior design and decoration.

Susanford
This town makes a determined effort to pin its future on becoming a retail destination – with fashion and accessories as the main theme. A major retailer is persuaded to invest in a retail area in the centre of the town. On the back of this, the town encourages a range of fashion and fashion related retailers into smaller spaces for independents. This includes inexpensive workshop spaces for small local maker-sellers of handmade garments, handbags, jewellery and accessories. Susanford organises two annual fashion weeks coinciding with the seasons and encourages both major retailers and smaller independents and designers to take part. Design and fashion students from the local academy also take part with the potential to have their own catwalk show, and with the best designers winning a week working for a fashion house or designer. Susanford is also successful in attracting the first of a new generation of ‘click, try and collect’ drive in superchannels where customers can collect, try and either accept or reject their online purchases. This attracts people into the town from far afield and adds to the footfall in the conventional retail areas.

Kenton
This town recognises that, through its close proximity to other larger and better appointed towns, it may never again be able to be fully reliant on retail. Instead, the town embraces the new permissions for change of use to residential and encourages the conversion of the surplus shop capacity into flats, maisonettes and town houses. A reduced number of shops is focused into a semi-pedestrianised area known as ‘Kenton Village’, which develops a growing reputation for outstanding restaurants, bistros, bars and coffee shops all staying open late into the evening. The street environment is made more friendly and intimate through use of traditional lighting, cobbled areas, very limited street parking, seating areas, trees, flowerbeds and green spaces. Traders are encouraged to adopt traditional styles for their shop facias and there is a street market in the centre of Kenton Village every Saturday that, in the summer months, stays active well into the evening. As a result, Kenton Village becomes a popular place to live in, or to spend time in at weekends and in the evening.

Johnsea
This town capitalises on its surrounding farming enterprises and small businesses to become a mecca for local produce and all things food related. At centre of the high street a permanent covered area is created. This is used for thriving street markets during the week and at weekends. Encouraged by subsidised, flexible trading space, a number of new generation artisan maker-sellers establish their businesses right at the heart of the high street – these include a cheese-maker, a sausage and cured meat specialist, a cider maker and a baker. All these businesses also trade offline, attracting determined foodies to make personal visits from miles around. The food theme continues with regular food events, featuring guest appearance by top chefs, and a busy programme of cookery courses and food-making workshops. An increasing variety of excellent restaurants and bistros is established in the town, which rapidly gains a reputation for great eating and drinking. Related shops include a kitchenware shop, a wine cellars and a hand-made kitchen showroom.

Nigelhurst
This town concentrates on attracting small businesses and enterprises. Vacated shop spaces are converted into flexible spaces that can be used by small to medium sized businesses. The local council takes out a long lease on some high street office space, which is then offered at very low rents to start-up businesses for the first 12 months of trading. These new businesses benefit from a network of local services offering things like marketing and digital support. The Nigelhurst Enterprise Network fosters a strong extended community of small businesses, incubators and home-workers, offering marketing and promotional support, and encouraging all local businesses to use the emerging local services that include accountancy, logistics and business development. A local developer converts several shops into a collection of cool apartments that are quickly occupied by young workers who are attracted to the buzz of the area. A thriving ‘enterprise quarter’ soon emerges, with an array of small cafes, eateries and independent retailers that are geared up to cater for the new generation of residents that breath life back into the centre of the town.