The pandemic is accelerating the demise of retail high streets in suburbs and towns up and down the country. The smooth transition towards a balanced model of entertainment, hospitality, and retail is under threat. The consequence could be a downward spiral of empty and rundown shops, unattractive town-centres, and collapsing commercial property values. However, salvation could be at hand in the form of millions of home-working adults, their desire to connect with local communities, and their spending power.
Since the start of the pandemic there has been significant support available to retail businesses in the form of grants, loans, and furlough schemes for staff. However, the pandemic has turbo charged the transition to online shopping and will leave spending habits permanently altered and many businesses untenable once this support is lifted. Without intervention this could cause a domino effect of failed businesses, collapsing commercial property incomes, reduced Investment, and unattractive and lethargic high streets that cease to attract customers. As commercial property prices tumble there will be pressure to allow a significant chunk to convert to residential property spaces. This would leave many communities bereft of a central hub in which to socialise and create a sense of community.
Fortunately help may be at hand. Millions of adults are now working from their homes and often very close to these regional centres. There is an opportunity to harness the spending power of these home-workers and to re-purpose the high street as cultural and recreational centres that provide a hub for community life. Commuters who previously viewed their cultural life as city focussed have an opportunity to connect locally and significantly enrich the lives of those around them, including the young, old and vulnerable. Nothing short of national rejuvenation is possible.
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