Is community building the way forward to revitalise our high streets?
3 sustainably driven initiatives to reinvigorate our local shopping hubs
There isn’t much for high street retail to cheer about right now. From news of John Lewis redundancies, Gap store closures and the latest figures from the BRC-LDC Vacancy Monitor (retail unit vacancy rate in the UK was up from the 13.7 % recorded in the final quarter of 2020, marking three consecutive years of increased retail vacancies), are all unwelcome developments for city centres across the UK.
I recently wrote about the addition of Belong gaming arenas to high streets and what an excellent initiative this has been - while it’s a great draw for Gen Z gamers (and some reluctant parents :) it’s not enough to drive footfall from a broader demographic.
However, there are three London based initiatives, with community and sustainability at their core, that are great examples of high street based businesses outside the ‘norm’, having a positive impact.
Reuse & Refill
There are growing numbers of R&R (reuse and refill) initiatives popping up across the UK. It’s a simple concept of topping up on various household products such as washing up liquid and coffee using your own reusable containers (thus removing plastic from the equation). The stores also stock a variety of sustainable / environmentally friendly products.
While some retail stores are heading in a fully automated direction where you don’t have to interact with a single person (which is pretty depressing), the reuse & refill retail experience is quite different. The range of products is usually pretty broad (and unlike what you’ll find at your local Asda), the staff are eager to engage and explain. They’re also pretty passionate about sustainability so as a customer, it feels like a good experience.
The R&R trend is already taking root with the Body Shop targeting refill stations in up to 70% of its stores globally by 2022, and Unilever extending its trial of refillable packaging across the UK.
Really simple. Music brings people from all different backgrounds together in one place. HMV are planning to open 10 stores this year with live music a big feature (I saw some awesome lunchtime music at the Oxford Street store back in the day).
However, there are some venues doing this already, and with a greater emphasis on community and sustainability. Sound Lounge is a grassroots music venue and community hub with venues in South London (Morden and Sutton).
During the day, the venue operates as a cafe, restaurant and meeting space, running a number of community lead workshops. When the rest of the high street is closed (bar the odd pub or bar), SoundLounge is open, hosting live music. The venues have recently been awarded carbon neutral status.
Renew & Refurbish
Part of the circular economy is the drive to fix and refurbish consumer products. Tech is one category that suffers with low repair and recycling rates in the UK. There are very few options on the high street that inspire confidence, and often the experience leaves you feeling like you have been ripped off. There’s a great opportunity to fill this space and encourage people to get their tech fixed, extending its life cycle rather than opting for a replacement.
On the community building level, there’s a brilliant movement called the Restart Initiative. This people-powered social enterprise organises events where members of the public can come in and have anything from headphones to laptops repaired.
While there are practical things such as pedestrianisation to boost high street footfall, there are plenty of new ideas and innovations happening around the country that can breathe new life into the high street and bring people together. But all too often it’s happening on the fringes. Councils need to work with landlords to bring these initiatives to where the footfall is, and reinvigorate the high streets that are fast turning into one trick coffee ‘n fast food ponies.
Refillogic - https://www.refillogic.co.uk
Sound Lounge - https://www.thesoundlounge.org.uk
Restart Initiative - https://therestartproject.org