In July, it was widely reported in the media that local high streets could see 17,000 new shops open over the next twelve months as new hybrid working models increasingly become the norm. No doubt this will contribute to a renaissance of our local high streets and support their long term sustainability. 

There has been a seismic shift in how people view their local areas; they have now made a conscious choice to spend more money and time with local independent businesses and support their high streets. The pandemic has turned us into a more ethical and environmentally conscious consumers. And thanks to the various lockdowns, the high street now has much more of an emotional pull than it did pre Covid-19. 

Vicky Hernandez, “Although the shift to working from home has been positive for local high streets, one thing retailers can’t ignore is the ever-growing demand for convenience, especially as so many online retailers offer rapid, often same day, delivery. A key shift for many retailers is to consider opening shops in local areas rather than city centres. This has led to them reviewing their location strategies, moving away from traditional shopping centres”. 

As we’ve seen, a number of major brands and retailers are thinking about how they can best serve their neighbourhoods and communities. Many are rebalancing their store estates and expanding their presence in suburban areas opening smaller shops, launching partnerships with retailers that already have a strong footprint in local areas and creating new click and collect hubs. 

Jonathan De Mello adds, “In addition to its diversification and collaborations with Tesco and petrol stations, Pret is moving to where its customers are living outside of London. With employers allowing more staff to work from home, people are leaving the cities for the suburbs and Pret needs to go where the people are instead of waiting for them to show up to a branch near their office”. 

With two-thirds of employers planning to introduce or expand hybrid working, it’s clear that millions more people will be spending extra time closer to home. This is great news for our high street, local communities and the businesses who serve them. People will want to get out of the house, switch up their working environment and have a change of scene. They might go for a coffee, work somewhere differently for a couple of hours, then pick up some shopping on the way back. Retailers who are located in a customer’s local area will become more important as workers go to the nearby bakers or frequent the local greengrocers for lunch. We might even see a renaissance of the old internet cafés as those that can’t or do not want to commute to work seek working spaces away from their bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms! 

For a true high street renaissance we need our high streets to offer a new type of experience, combining retail and hospitality with residential, healthcare and technology options. This won’t happen overnight. Our new multi-functional high streets will be delivered by local government and private stakeholders working together supported by central government funded schemes and national campaigns, from the £1bn Future High Streets Fund, the High Streets Task Force and the £5bn ‘restart’ grant scheme for high street shops and hospitality businesses, to campaigns such as Visa’s Where You Shop Matters. These collaborations across the retail ecosystem that rally support for businesses on our high streets will play a vital part in the retail reboot.

The message is clear:

We have a golden opportunity to REPURPOSE empty retail units into leisure, healthcare, residential and flexible workspaces to create vibrant, dynamic and sustainable communities.

 Retailers that have successfully REINVENTED themselves by creating a more personalised and experience-based offering which people can’t get online will succeed.

 And for the High Street’s RENAISSANCE everyone has a part to play.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our contributors: Howard Saunders, The Retail Futurist; Geraint Jones, Director, Savills; Steven Medway, Place Manager, The Cadogan Estates; Graham Soult, Retail Consultant and High Streets Task Force Expert; Jonathan De Mello, Partner, CWM Retail Consulting; Dawn Mannis, Director and Co-Founder, The Sampler; Mark Pilkington, Author, Retail Recovery: How Creative Retailers Are Winning in their Post-Apocalyptic World; Ed Ellerington, Founder and Managing Director, Packaged Living; Tim Sharp, Global Director of Store Design and Construction, AllSaints and Tony Carter, Director, Millets Farm.