The headlines are gloomy, but our future evolved local high street looks exciting


By Fiona Wright, Director

There’s been lots of doom and gloom in the news lately about the state of our high street. Headlines from just the past week tell us that the high street ‘crisis deepens’; consumers ‘see the end of the high street’; and our laziness has ‘killed the high street’. 

The loss of much-loved icons such as Debenhams, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins are indeed very sad news especially for the many thousands of people who will lose their jobs (and we hope the Chancellor makes the right calls in next month’s important Budget which will help our centres, our businesses, jobs and the economy). The truth is however that our high streets were already evolving and COVID massively accelerated this process. We must embrace this change and make good of it – and BIDs have a huge role to play. 

The future can be exciting – there is an opportunity for young, new and fresh brands to set up shop and provide experiences such as digital showrooms and virtual changing rooms. Alongside this innovation, our high streets can thrive again with the right mix of businesses, quality homes, green spaces, libraries, leisure centres and other community facilities. When I walk through my hometown to see how COVID is affecting it I am always surprised by the number of people still walking and milling about. This shows to me the pull of the community hub – our communities are drawn to them, even when most businesses are closed.

So, what can BIDs do to help? First, they can encourage more collaboration between businesses to improve our areas. In Sunderland’s city centre, a new modern coffee shop has partnered with a traditional baker – with the baker supplying the coffee shop. Similarly, a microbrewery, coffee shop and designer menswear brand are sharing the same space and helping create experiences for men of a specific demographic. 

Next, whether we want to reconfigure parts of our high street, put empty buildings into use, or build transport hubs, we will only achieve these things if developers, property owners, local authorities and BIDs talk to each other. To make that happen we need a clear lead organisation bringing these parties together – and BIDs are perfectly placed to be it.

And of course, we won’t achieve any of this without the help of Government and local authorities.  We need to encourage more entrepreneurs to transform their local areas – and they need to be given the flexibility to be creative and to get on with investing in their areas. In Bristol for example, a developer has converted an old car parts shop into a bakery, cheese and wine shop with flats on the top level.

The headlines are gloomy, it’s a really tough time for people, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. All eyes are on next month’s Budget, we are really looking forward to turning a corner from this pandemic, and we are determined that BIDs can be at the heart of helping to evolve our local high street.

*Thanks to Destination Bristol and Sunderland BID for giving us examples mentioned in this piece. 

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