Shops in high streets across the UK are closing at an ever-increasing rate turning towns and cities into "no-go" areas; ghost towns of boarded-up buildings and empty litter-strewn pavements. Our high streets are the hub of our communities and the beating heart of British society and this decline should not be allowed to continue. Here at the Happy Zone we believe in positive thinking backed up by positive actions and if everyone in the UK pulls together on this, we can turn this depressing decline into an exciting new beginning - a fresh start for towns large and small that had been considered dead and buried.
The Happy Zone has put together this 10 Point Action Plan that we would like every single one of you to share with your friends, families and above all your local councils, shop owners and town planners. Email them, phone them, tweet them, leave messages and comments on their websites and Facebook pages until we get them to listen and take action!
Let's all get together and make our high streets and town centres go from this...
...to this! We know which picture we prefer!
SAVE OUR HIGH STREETS - 10 POINT ACTION PLAN!
- Appoint a High Street Ambassador - something that every local council should be doing which we urge you to write/email your council to suggest. A 'High Street Ambassador' would be a full-time position employed by each council to act as a project manager to bring business and footfall back to YOUR high street. Their goals would include making sure that every single empty shop is filled, organising events and festivals and liasing with the local community to see what local people really want to see happening in their high streets.
- Town Action Committee - a team of volunteers whose role is to support the High Street Ambassador in all of their aims and goals to bring their high street back to life.
- Free Parking! - this is an absolute necessity for most towns in order to generate footfall and compete against the large out-of-town shopping malls. This of course would be up to the council to implement and we understand that this may only be able to happen on weekends and after certain hours midweek - but this has to start happening!!
- Pop-Up Shops - if there are so many vacant shops and buildings in town centres then these can be used for temporary 'pop-up' shops selling a variety of goods and fulfilling a variety of needs. They needn't be shops but could be pop-up cinemas, galleries or art installations - anything that makes positive use of an empty space and encourages people to come to your high street.
- Events - regular high profile events that involve the entire community and the wider population outside your town can only be a good thing! Examples include - food festivals, children's carnival, all-night arts festival (where the shops and cafes also open all night), gay pride mardis gras, film festivals, Easter parade, Halloween street party....the list is endless!
- Regular Markets - more and more small towns and communities are hosting farmers markets and vintage craft fairs as these draw in the crowds and attract customers from miles around.
- Support Independent Shops - over the last few decades our high streets have become filled with more and more generic chains all selling the same thing and offering nothing new or different to anywhere else - too many Tesco, Sainsburys and other mini-supermarkets that are leaching the life out of our local butchers, newsagents and corner shops. Too many corporate tax avoiders like Starbucks offering watered-down, overpriced "coffee" and disgusting factory-produced muffins. We need to be encouraging vibrant independent coffee and tea shops, gift shops, fashion boutiques, book stores and the like. The towns and cities that are weathering the economic storm the best are those that offer interesting and varied independent shopping destinations like Brighton, Lewes and Whitby. Support your independent shops and you support your local economy, leading to less unemployment and a brighter, more friendly community.
- No Empty Shops & Premises! - we cannot express strongly enough the importance of this. Encourage greedy landlords to let out premises for free for a year to traders who can bring something valuable to the community. Encourage new businesses that are different to anything else in the area. As we've said above, encourage pop-up shops, galleries and community centres - as long as those that occupy the spaces keep them clean, bright, attractive, tidy and respectable they can only lift your high street out of its doldrums!
- Community Engagement - get everyone in the local community involved in setting up and attending events - local schools, newspapers, churches, theatres, cinemas, arts groups, libraries, pensioners, youth groups, charities - anyone and everyone who would like to get involved in a positive way.
- Publicity! - even if you manage to achieve even half the things in our 10 Point Action Plan you still need to get the word out there by any means necessary to encourage people to come along! Why not set up a High Street website or blog that can keep up a record of your journey as well as publicise your events, new shops etc? Email your local newpapers and 'what's on' magazines, tweet about what you're doing, set up a Facebook page or group, let the Happy Zone know what you're up to, write to The One Show, local celebrities, Mary Portas, local radio...there are so many ways to get publicity these days and you never know who might be willing to step in and help you!
Many of the above ideas and more are already being championed by retail expert Mary Portas, who was commissioned by the Prime Minister David Cameron to lead an independent review into the future of the high street. This has resulted in a funding scheme known as the Portas Pilots, whereby towns can apply for support and funding from the government in order to make positive changes in their high streets. You can visit Mary's website to read more of her ideas and more about the Portas Pilots but we do urge you to watch all three episodes of her Channel Four television show Mary Queen of the High Street while it's still available online to see how these ideas can really work if people just make an effort and work together!
Please add your comments below and let us know about YOUR positive action to boost your local shops and your own high streets. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org using "Save Our High Streets" as your subject line!