How can we do high streets differently?

In the latest of a series of blogs, our director Ian Harvey considers how we can all play a part in the future of our high street.

Ahead of Civic Voice’s high street conversation with Graham Galpin, I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own as to what communities can do.  My message, echoed by Professor Cathy Parker is that what’s important is that everywhere has a group of people caring about it.

We all to need to get involved.CAthy Parker BID

According to the Government’s own research, 57% of people want to have influence over decisions that are happening in their area; yet 26% of those individuals do not feel they actually influence those decisions.

My message to those individuals. Now is the time to act. Your local area needs you more than ever.

We all have something we love about where we live. It might be a patch of green space or a historic building. Or maybe you have a conservation area that makes you proud, or a local high street that has lots of independents.

What has happened in the past few weeks has made us all realise how valuable our towns and city centres area.

And now, more than ever, your local high street and town centre needs you. The next few years will be some of the most challenging that we face.  Yet it all starts with me, you, all of us.  The local area and high street needs you. The future of our high streets will be led by local activity and local ownership. There are now over 300 Business Improvement Districts established across the country and they are a key mechanism to help support businesses in areas that have one. Unfortunately though, many areas do not have a BID.

Civic societies and community groups have been champions of our town centres and high streets for many years. In the past, it has been so easy for people to say ‘it is the responsibility of the council to take action’. That attitude is not acceptable anymore. If you want to see your high street and town centre succeed, you need to get involved. Councils have a key ‘enabler/facilitator’ role, but we can achieve so much through local place leaders coming together and curating the area to be a ‘community district’.

There are so many ways to show that we care and to play our part –  we can shop locally, launch a town vision, engage business, maybe start a campaign? But we need local leaders.

Every high street needs a long-term vision about what it is offering and this needs to fit in with the wider challenges faced by society. For example, the UK has a serious housing shortage. Why don’t we seriously consider converting some empty shop units into housing? In my opinion, the future leadership of our high streets needs to be driven by informal place-focused community and business networks.

What we need is action and we can start today.

How can we save our town centres and high streets? Through working together;

  1. Find out what the council plan for your area? Stay apolitical, but talk to local councillors and the MP.
  2. If they don’t have the answer, start a social media campaign – ‘What do you love about your area?’ What are the 3 things you would change?
  3. After that, if you do nothing else, register with the High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force was set up in July last year to support local authorities, business and community groups to transform their high streets. Register here.
  4. Once registered with the Task Force, get in touch with local media and tell them that you want to start talking about where we live. Use local press and radio, advertise in the local library, church or town hall! Have a town conversation!
  5. Organise a ‘virtual workshop” to get people to start thinking about the recovery and that you want to start mapping the different business and activities that you have on the high street?
  6. Get everyone engaged, e.g. speak to the Friends of the park, local residents associations, church groups, business associations etc
  7. Host a networking lunch on Zoom with local businesses – can they work together to provide services to the community?
  8. Launch a ‘loyalty card’ to encourage local shopping
  9. If possible, get people together and organise a socially distanced litter pick
  10. If possible, go and support a local cafe … even if you all stand 2 metres apart. It’s a start.
  11. Then do more. And more. And more.

When people ask what your response was in the recovery to covid-19, be the person that can say that you cared about where you live! You didn’t wait for someone else.  You started a twitter conversation, you connected with others, you Zoomed.

The future of your town centre will be thankful.

At Civic Voice, our goal is to continue to give communities a voice at the national level on the issues and decisions that affect you locally. I pledge to you that we will continue to collaborate with communities to make great places.

Ian Harvey

Executive Director


How can we do high streets differently?

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