We need to put a Community HEART Strategy into every high street

Ahead of Civic Voice webinars on  Modern Methods of Meaningful Participation: High Streets with Commonplace and Modern Methods of Meaningful Participation: High Streets Digital Engagement, I wanted to continue to share my thoughts as to how we can do high street regeneration differently.  My message, echoed by Professor Cathy Parker is that it is important that everywhere has a group of people caring about it.

A community is the life-blood of every place. It is why, every high street needs a Community HEART Strategy. 

CAthy Parker BID

The role of high streets and town centres in contributing to the local economy and the health, wellbeing, cohesion, and cultural life of the local community is vital.  Covid-19 has been devastating for the health of the nation in so many ways. We must use what has happened to rethink the traditional models.  We need to start a new era of community led high streets.

We should use this devastating period to not just #buildbackbetter but instead to create the economy and society that we want.

So, what can we do?

Community – It all starts with people meeting together 

We need a focus on bringing people together.  If you allow people to take steps to meet their neighbours, they will.  Do you have a ‘a central heart’ – a ‘gathering space’ where you can meet as a community? Somewhere to meet a friend or to bump into a familiar face? It can be park, square or library. Every high street needs places to gather. Where do you gather as a community on your high street?

Do you know where the HEART of your high street is?

  • H – Heritage
  • E – Economy stupid, but for everyone. Establish priorities
  • A – Accessible for all. Make your area attractive for everyone. Get an action plan.
  • R – Redefine it. The recovery will happen…. but it needs to be planned..
  • T – Together and embrace modern technology to engage

Heritage – A sense of place. 

  • Every place is unique, and every place is different, with its own distinctive assets and sense of place.  A one size fits all approach does not work. People do not want a clone town. 69 high streets across England have now been selected to receive a share of the £95 million fund. Learn about these!
  • Identify the civic infrastructure – libraries, charity shops, pubs – places that people connect. Showcase your community’s unique characteristics. Find the heart.
  • Much can be done locally, but not everything. It is okay to look to other places for inspiration. Places will be affected differently by Covid-19 and will face a different recovery period. Use frameworks that can be adapted for local conditions. Check out IPM’s 4 stage model and adapt it locally.  

Economy stupid, but for everyone. Establish priorities.

  • Britain’s shopping culture is changing. The future of retail is dead. High Streets will need to share retail space with residential, working, leisure, health and educational spaces.
  • A diverse economic strategy needs to support existing businesses,  but has to create a culture that supports local entrepreneurs and innovators to drive forward the area. 100 employers employing 2 people will in the long term be better than 2 employers employing 100 people. It will make you more local, more resilient.
  • Focus on creating a local economy with local jobs supported by local people. Speak to the council about support available to stimulate new businesses. Ownership should be in the hands of the community. Power to Change supports people to start and grow community businesses to revive local assets, protect the services people rely on, and address local needs. Community businesses help make places better, for example by saving local shops, giving more training opportunities for local people or providing affordable housing.

Accessible for all. Make you area attractive for everyone. 

  • For everyone. – Bikes, pedestrians, business, residents, young and old…. everyone has a role to play. It should be a place for everyone to visit and a place where everyone can feel like they can set up a new business. This will mean reducing the number of cars on our roads. It can be done .
  • Accessible for all. Create a viable future by connecting local community groups together. Connect the dots and map out what is happening.  You need to coordinate partnerships and stop working in silos. Inspiring more community involvement will be the single and most important thing you can do to build a resilient high street. Broadstairs Town Team aim to make our town an even nicer place to live in, work in and visit.  Collaboration is key to that. It’s all about Community working together.
  • Attractive for all: Give different people a reason to visit.  Don’t shut the high street at 6pm. Aim for the Purple Flag Award. In every community you will have talented musicians who need a platform. Make a music festival.

Redefine it. The recovery will happen…. but it needs to be planned 

  • Make sure you register with the High Streets Task Force and follow the Task Force recovery plan with suggestion to transform your High Street.
  • The Wimbledon Society decided to produce their own plan (Vision 2040), which started with the local community wishlist, and deals with the major issues facing ‘High Streets’ on a national level.  The society were keen to have ‘proposals’ not just ‘policies’, and to be ‘proactive’ and not ‘reactive’. Most importantly, through ‘Vision 2040’, they want to show what kind of town they could look forward to, including: relocating traffic, pedestrianising and planting extensively, celebrating the historic environment, all in a plan that is produced “bottom up” by local people, rather than the usual “top down”
  • The time is ripe to focus on creating varied communities in towns, that cater for the people who live in them. Utilise the Tactical urbanism approach. Tactical urbanism is about focusing on low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment.

Technology and a planned transition to a new ways of trading

  • Technology: Can you count the footfall on your high street? Do you have a virtual High Street? Do you do digital? Do you have a social media presence?  Would it be possible for someone to work from a local cafe?  You need to be able to answer these questions.
  • Together:  By thinking differently, working together and putting the ‘place’ as the priority, we can overcome great obstacles. Put politics away. Focus on place. The People’s Town Centre Vision , put together by Aldershot Civic Society is showing what is possible. Read more here.
  • Transition: A transition plan will help you bring together the different ideas and focus on the future in a focused, deliberate manner

We need to put the Community HEART into every high street.

We need to use this chance to do things differently, but the solution for our high streets is already in them. We must reignite a sense of pride and ownership within a local community and encourage residents and businesses to join in investing in the area, the solution for our high streets is already in them.

Remember, places are not limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their leadership. Let’s inspire the community leaders in our towns to step forward and help shape the future.

Finally, start establish a Community Heart Action Plan. Do not wait for the local council to do this. If you start, other activities and priorities will start connecting together! Civic Voice’s webinar series will cover the detail of what this might look like.


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.

Civic Voice is a part of the Government’s High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force has been set-up to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England. It will do this by providing information, advice, training, knowledge and data – helping people to make a positive difference to their local communities.

We encourage civic societies and community groups to register to receive task force updates from https://highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/

If you want to consider the idea of establishing a  Community HEART Strategy,  get in touch at info@civicvoice.org.uk

We need to put a Community HEART Strategy into every high street

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