information for transformational people

High St 246Saving the high street: community takeover? 

From a report by Power to Change

A recent report explores how community businesses can help revive the high street’s fortunes. It also shows that where local authorities have helped facilitate community business ownership and access to both public and privately-owned buildings,it has created more vibrant and resilient high streets.

This is a critical moment for our high streets, which already faced problems caused by the rise of out-of-town shopping centres and the growth of online retail. They now face the short-term challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic yet the pandemic also presents an opportunity to rebuild in a new way.

There has been a resurgence of community spirit, a renewed connection with local areas, and a growing recognition that communities need to play a central role in shaping their town centres and high streets to meet people’s needs. As such, the aftermath of the pandemic is an important moment to reflect on established practices.

A community business is set up and run by the community in a particular place, to address local challenges and deliver positive impact. Any profits generated are reinvested locally. Overall, community businesses have four key characteristics:

  • they are locally rooted;
  • they are accountable to the local community;
  • they trade for the benefit of the local community; and
  • they have a broad community impact.

The number of community businesses has been growing, with many in high street locations. Research facilitated by Power to Change demonstrates how community business provides a chance for high streets to be rebuilt by and for local communities.

Their report presents six case studies of community business on the high street, with the aim of providing examples of the contribution community businesses can make to the regeneration of high streets and how this might happen. The intention was to select case studies which were illustrative of best practice or particularly interesting examples, rather than providing a representative sample.

The six case studies are:

  • The Old Library, Bodmin – where a significant local building has been used by a community business as a cultural facility, drawing visitors to the high street
  • Midsteeple Quarter, Dumfries – a community-led initiative which is developing a group of high street buildings into a live/work quarter
  • Hebden Bridge Town Centre – a town with a thriving high street, with multiple community businesses supported by the local authority through their ‘community anchors’ policy
  • Made in Ashford, Kent – an independent shop which provides a platform for local business to sell on the high street and for community-based craft activities
  • Radcliffe Market Hall, Bury – a rejuvenated market hall, combining a traditional market with an evening dine-in street food and community venue
  • Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford – where members of the local community are trying to bring an independent cinema into community ownership.

The case studies show the importance of community business as ‘destination places’, drawing people back to the high street and helping to increase footfall. Community businesses can play an important role in ensuring high streets have a more diverse mix of uses and activity, meeting local needs and bringing a wider range of people to the high street. The case studies showed that this worked well when community business played a role as a complement, rather than a competitor, to other high street businesses.

There are a number of benefits which community business can have to the rest of the high street, potentially increasing numbers of customers in other, non-community businesses. These include:

  • Serving as a ‘destination place’ – increasing footfall in the high street, and so bringing people in to use other local businesses.
  • Increasing diversity of high street users – the community business often attracted groups who would not otherwise have felt comfortable or been attracted to the high street.
  • Building resilience – community businesses, as stewards of important local buildings, felt they had a wider role in enabling the high street to thrive in adversity.
  • Building links with other local business – through voucher programmes or by providing incubator space for other local businesses to sell.
  • Shaping a vision for the high street – by building a reputation for the high street as an interesting, thriving place.

The case studies further strengthen the argument that community businesses can, and do, play an important role in high street regeneration. Community managed businesses can achieve benefits, such as increased customer loyalty, which allow them to succeed where commercial businesses do not. Local authorities have realised it is in their enlightened self-interest to work to support them. Efforts to do this have included asset transfers, subsidised leases and using community business to deliver services.

The case studies serve to reinforce how community groups often face difficulties in gaining access to assets and/or making the transition from grassroots fundraising to running a successful community business. Local authorities and other statutory funders can play a crucial role in supporting community businesses through these challenges.

The report outlines three principles for local authorities wishing to facilitate the growth of community business on the high street and one principle for community business looking to move onto the local high street:

  • Providing flexible finance for establishment, growth, and sustainability. Community businesses often require short-term funding to move from being the ambition of the community to a successful business.
  • Ensure access to high street locations. Local authorities can ease the asset transfer process/support greater community ownership, support the ‘meanwhile use’ of buildings, connect up community businesses with vacant properties on the high street, provide leases which start at a low level and scale up gradually.
  • Build effective, clear and collaborative long-term relationships through policy and public bodies.
  • Prepare for opportunities. Community businesses need to have the necessary structures in place to take advantage of high street assets when they becomes vacant/available, together with the ability to sustain activity in these properties.

Read more here.

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From a report by Power to Change, 04/11/2020

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