Five years ago a team of retail experts published a report for Westminster about the future of Britain’s high streets. Now, they say, is the right time to do it again.
For years out of town retail parks and online shopping have accelerated the demise of the British high street. And although the rate of decline is slowing, it’s not stopping.
Bill Grimsey, former CEO of Wickes, Iceland and Booker, is the lead author of the report. He says the troubles faced by outlets like Thomas Cook, Maplin, New Look and Toys R Us, along with business rate changes and Brexit, make this the perfect time to see which recommendations in his previous report were implemented, and which worked.
“It is time to get this subject back on everyone’s agenda,” he says. “Otherwise we will continue to sleepwalk into the remainder of the 21st Century, leaving a legacy of ill-thought-out town centres and high streets to the next generation.”
“Change is rapid and change is constant. This all-encompassing second review, written by independent experts, will act as an independent source of evidence and advice as to how the change should be managed.”
At a time when Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas was asked by the Government to conduct a review of the high street, the Grimsey report was compiled to offer an alternative review, which sought to broaden the subject beyond shops.
It identified a need to embrace technology and reinvent the high street as a community hub with a combination of goods and services.
Some councils have begun to do just that. For example, Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire implemented an initiative to bring more town centre buildings in Huddersfield into residential use.
Within two years 2,000 people had moved into the centre. The theory is that the demand for goods created by the influx will support the remaining shops.
The report also highlighted a need for entertainment and other services to replace pure retail. And one retailer in Huddersfield has put that into practice.
Tony Boothroyd was selling records and cds on the internet two years before Google was even invented. He was a genuine pioneer of online selling, but now he’s back on the high street.
He believes his Vinyl Tap store acts as a shop window to his online portal, and a series of special promotions helps generate recognition through social media.
Vinyl Tap has brought in over 150 bands for free gigs, hosts record launches, and has teamed up with local breweries and eateries to put on other promotional events.
“If you do have a shop you have to be open minded and try different things,” he says.
“The live bands, cinema evenings and so on encourage people to come in, and once they’ve been in they’ll check out the website, and hopefully keep coming back. It’s a bigger picture. It’s not just a shop.”
Retailers like Tony, and anyone else with interests relating to the high street, are being invited by the Grimsey report authors to submit feedback and evidence for the study.
The report, “Grimsey Review 2”, will be published on 4 July.