More than half (52%) of UK residents are concerned their local pubs, restaurants and shops they value will close within the next year, a new report about the future of high streets from international law firm Withers reveals.
With the pandemic hitting independent businesses especially hard, a third of UK residents (33%) fear these amenities could be replaced by chains.
Roughly twice as many people said they value the independently-run pubs, restaurants and shops on their local high street over chains (48% versus 29%).
Despite the shift to online buying brought about by the pandemic, four in ten (40%) say they would even be prepared to pay 10% extra at local businesses.
Additionally, the majority (78%) say they have altered how much they use their local high street during the pandemic, and one in ten (10%) vow to shop there exclusively from now on.
Overall, Britons are concerned about the future of their local high street, with over seven in ten saying they believe the pandemic has substantially changed it and are feeling nervous about what’s to come.
However, according to business and high street innovation experts, the dramatic change driven by the COVID-19 pandemic actually represents an opportunity for landlords, communities and local authorities to work together to ensure their high street doesn’t just survive, but thrives.
Reinforcing this, the Withers report shows half (46%) of residents would like to see their local authority taking more proactive steps to improve their local high street. One in five (20% and 19% respectively) want to see more community-run pubs and shops, and over a quarter would like to see empty buildings transformed into spaces available for the community.
Jeremy Wakeham, CEO of the Withers Business Division and a commercial real estate partner said: “Without doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened an already challenging situation on our high streets and accelerated the need for action. Yet there is hope and opportunity for those willing to innovate and collaborate, and we are working with a number of entrepreneurs who are developing new approaches to retail, entertainment and work spaces. What’s more, we’re starting to see promising signs of investment, including overseas investors, looking beyond London for properties.
Our research has shown that people really do want their local area to succeed. Coming out of lockdown, and spending more time in their local high street, they want to have a vibrant community hub on their doorstep. What is also fundamentally clear is that local authorities, landlords and communities must create new partnerships and ownership models that will not only serve the varied needs of those living in the area but will also create destinations that attract both visitors and consumers.”
Bill Grimsey, ex retailer and contributor to the Withers report added: “The media loves this idea that the high street has to be ‘saved’, but I think you should drop the ‘save’ and replace it with ‘reinvent’. It’s all about developing social places that are fit for the 21st century.”
Ben Lovett, CEO of Venue Group and co-founder of Mumford & Sons said: “I think people will be looking for entertainment on a more local level… somewhere people can experience different things. It’s the Agora in ancient Greece, it’s the church hall in medieval times. It’s the thing that acts as an anchor in local communities.”
Claire Bailey, founder of The Retail Champion and Creator of The Future High Street Summit agreed, adding: “The high street isn’t going away, nor is it dying, but it is transforming, changing in purpose and function.
“High streets must adapt, and they can do that most effectively with proactive support from place managers (local authorities, BIDs etc), and through collaboration between all the businesses and organisations that operate within the high streets.
“High streets are there to provide local services, and it’s only by assessing the community, indeed by engaging them and discovering why they use a place, and why they don’t, can high streets evolve to meet the needs of the local community.”
Nick Plumb, Policy Manager at power to change said: “The fact that people are spending more time closer to home has the potential to have a really positive impact through increased localisation and strengthened community spirit.
The revival of a ‘civic high street’ is a phrase we’ve been using – a century ago high streets were the hub of the local community. They were mixed use and not as dominated by retail as they are today. How we rebuild the civic high street for the 21st century is a question we’re grappling with and we think community ownership is key to this.”