The Observatory

Jul 2020

Can creative minds and community engagement make places desirable to be and visit once more?

The economic jolt on the High street, as a result of COVID-19, has yet to be truly felt. Despite a cracking Super Saturday with a 20% hike in footfall, is the high street, as we have known set to change forever?

 Non-essential commerce has been closed, people have been staying safe in their homes, turning to online delivery with a resulting depletion of footfall in urban centres. Cities, town and villages and in turn their communities have experienced an ongoing reappraisal brought about by lockdown and #wfh. The likely fallout of our behaviour changes means more and more retail and commercial units either remaining or becoming empty.

 Is now the time for opportunity, for us all to pause, for creative minds and independent enterprise to drive local engagement and reassess what is required moving forward? The impetus must come from listening to local communities, understanding what they want and need from the space around them. The opportunities are there.

 Can urban spaces be managed or regenerated more imaginatively, to respond to the needs of the different local user groups? Can fostering local enterprise provide work and leisure space locally and more effectively to both existing and new start-up businesses?

 As the government explores radical planning reform to allow vacant buildings in town centres to be converted to housing. The time seems ripe for creativity. It may involve creating design briefs for people looking to redesign their homes to become a proper comfortable, ergonomic, well-lit working space with fast and reliable internet connection. Or coffee shops expanding into empty retail units to create an alternative or supplement to home working space, such as ad-hoc meeting rooms and creative space or indeed something more formalised.

Communities could look to expand the concept further, bringing empty retail units on the high street back to living dynamic places incorporating hybrid spaces, indoors and out. A new kind of department store, accommodating new working or retail practices to add value to the space, part café, part office space, part meeting space, part wellbeing space, part independent retail space and part community space. Combining different offerings to repurpose empty units on the high street and provide a locally accessible extension to #wfh. To reinvent places to be desirable ‘go to’ destinations once again, not just attracting the local community but, as lockdown eases further, visitors and tourists. A “build it and they will come” moment.

 The Placemakers is calling out to creative minds and independent enterprise to bring together community groups, local planners, commercial landlords and creative experts. To help communities visualise a bigger picture and push for change. To harness the positives and release imaginations on innovative and timely solutions to establish new and thriving functions for our homes and urban centres, for local, social and economic community benefit.