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Streets Ahead article 2

The Future of our High Streets - Reinvigoration

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Short term reinvigoration is about attracting people back. Encouraging people to re-discover their local high street and local shops.
Reinvigoration can involve:
• improving the immediate impression of the high street’s appearance and tidiness;
• encouraging people in with initiatives like markets, fairs and festivals;
• and rekindling loyalty through communications and rewards.

As shoppers have gravitated towards other retail choices, high street shops have in some cases become jaded and run down. The overall upkeep and attractiveness of some high streets has also suffered from neglect. These shortcomings, combined with an increasing scarcity of shoppers on the pavements, mean that some high streets are at times quite bleak places to visit.

One way to reverse this cycle is make the high street a more attractive environment. This can involve improving pavements, lighting, seating, accessibility and signage. It can involve voluntary high street ‘clean-up gangs’. It can also involve short-term initiatives to reduce the visual impact of closed shop fronts. Over more than 15 years, the Heathfield Partnership has been steadily improving the physical appearance and functionality of the high street. Changes have included improved pavements, lighting, road layouts and parking areas, crossings, hanging baskets, seating and better accessibility for the disabled. In Uckfield, a team of volunteer litter clearers was created – involving people from across the community including students and school children. The litter squads would patrol the high street areas clearing away any refuse and generally making the place look clean and inviting. The Hailsham Forward town team have experimented with vinyl graphics to improve the appearance of temporarily empty shops and also to help prospective traders to imagine what a thriving enterprise might look like in the vacant location. In nearby Eastbourne, a team of volunteers has been recruited to ‘spruce up’ empty shops, and in one of these the cleaned up empty premises was used to display artwork and installations by students from a local college.

Another way to tackle ‘sentiment’ is to encourage local people to re-engage with their local high street. This can be fairs and festivals that bring large numbers of people back into a town or village. A good example of this would be the Heathfield ‘Le Marche’ French market that now attracts a huge crowd every year. In addition to French traders, the market also attracts large numbers of local food businesses.

Farmers markets have been very successful at attracting people in but, as they have often been located away from the town centre, they do not always create an actual increase in high street footfall. The benefit of the traditional ‘market day’ was that it was in the centre of the town and drew people, on foot, into the high street. Many towns have now been attempting to recreate the market as a focus for the high street. Hailsham has introduced a new weekly Street Market to encourage shoppers back into the town centre. This is a formula that has proven very successful in Eastbourne, where the Street Market has been running weekly since 2012, with an additional Art Market on certain days Other towns have successfully introduced loyalty schemes and other promotional devices to attract people back into the high street. Crowborough has been running a loyalty scheme in which customers collect points as they use local shops. When enough points earned, shoppers qualify for a regular prize draw. Nearby Lewes is famous for introducing its own currency as a way of engaging local people and keeping spending within the community of independent traders. Many towns across the UK take part in the ‘love your local shops’ week that encourages consumers to re-discover their local retailers. The supporting promotion and publicity serves to remind people of what is on offer locally, and of the importance of supporting independent traders.

Re-invigoration is about starting to reverse the downward cycle that many high streets find themselves in. Taken together, initiatives like these have been successful in encouraging a more positive ‘vibe’ throughout the high street. The idea also is that, as the high street becomes busier and more attractive, traders will be encouraged to up their game – offering better service and working harder to meet customer needs.

If the high street begins to look more vibrant and busy, new traders will be attracted into the area – beginning the process of what the Streets Ahead report termed ‘reconfiguration’ . . .