According to a recent survey published by the British Retail Consortium, high street shops saw an average 2.6% drop in customer numbers in the past year, peaking at 9% in hardest hit areas in Wales. This loss of business is placing increased pressure on retailers forcing many to close, and it’s not just small independent retailers who’re struggling either. Following the closure of national chains such as Woolworths, Zavvi and Borders, the empty shop is now an all too common sight with more than 1 in 10 (11%) high street stores now vacant.
The situation has not gone unnoticed, earlier this year David Cameron tasked Mary Portas “Queen of Shops” to come up with a plan to save the British high street. She faces a difficult and important task; empty stores and boarded up shop fronts can have a devastating effect on a community, the unloved appearance and atmosphere having a substantial impact on community tension, a disconnection with local society and in turn, anti-social behaviour.
There are a number of potential factors contributing to this trend, the rising cost of living, disposable income that has shrunk or disappeared entirely, online shopping and vast out of town retail parks; however there’s another factor that could potentially lead to a solution.
A recent shift in consumer culture is moving many away from the mass consumerism of previous decades towards a model of collaborative consumption. Spurred by environmental concerns, lack of disposable income, and ever easier means of communication online, people are turning to services like Streetcar, Freecycle or Ebay, where people share ownership, redistribute unwanted goods, and buy and sell direct from person to person, bypassing the high street entirely.
Extend this ethos to our empty high street stores though and a potential solution becomes clear. Vacant stores make a high street look unloved and foster community decay, but share that space with the community, allow them to use it collaboratively for creative, social or charitable projects, and it can bring the community together.
This is exactly what somewhereto_ aims to do for young people across the UK. We’re not alone, working alongside and together with other like-minded local and national organisations such as 3Space, the Empty Shops Network, and Emptyshop.org and Wasted Spaces.
So if you have empty stores let us know here and help reinvigorate your community.
Written by Becca Rothwell
For more information on somewhereto_ visit: www.somewhereto.com