Bill Grimsey Retailer and turnaround specialist in the Food and DIY sectors most notably at Wickes, Iceland, and Focus (DIY) has gathered a team of experts to assist with delivering a “Complete Solution to the difficulties faced by Britain’s High Street. Asda chief Andy Clarke is one of many high profile industry figures to have endorsed the project, the team includes Nick Hood of Company Watch, London Data Company Director Matthew Hopkinson, Jackie Sadek CEO of UK Regeneration , social and economic policy expert Chris Shellard, retail campaigner Paul Turner-Mitchell and Sid Vasili CEO of Invapay and expert in SME inclusion and Finance Solutions.
To some this may sound a gloomy prognosis, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our high streets. As the old way of doing things becomes redundant there’s the opportunity to build a post-retail landscape in town centres that embraces the needs of local communities above commerce. Retail will always have a role to play on the high street but if we’re going to bring back the buzz to tired shopping areas and give people a reason to go there, we need a different, community-led model.
Since I announced my plan to conduct an alternative review of the high street, many people have asked me what the high streets of the future might look like. For some, it’s hard to imagine going to the high street for anything other than shopping. But let’s try. Because soon we’ll have no choice.
First of all high streets will have to become meeting places once more, a locus of community power where education, leisure, health and housing meet local needs. Let’s convert empty shops into affordable homes, transform them into education hubs where literacy initiatives compete with new technologies and learning labs.
Where row after row of boarded up shops now stand let’s create leisure quarters so gyms, skate parks and velodromes coexist with dance studios, well-being centres and midnight football leagues. Streets where tumbleweed breezily blows through now could just as readily be converted to health zones bringing dentistry, physios, dieticians, chiropractors, counsellors and different therapies together in one cluster.
Instead of ubiquitous payday loans, pound shops and pawnbrokers, we could start planning fresh food zones, large-scale epic crowd games, play zones, town centre allotments and continuous street theatre. All of this is achievable; it merely scratches the surface of what’s possible. But it’ll require an acceptance that the current model is bust, a willingness to plan and Government support to help nurture a new model
There are more than 40,000 empty shops in the UK and this represents a tragic waste of potential.
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