There is an asset at the heart of British towns and cities: historic civic infrastructure. Grand municipal buildings, Victorian town halls, fine libraries, museums, galleries and theatres. To return crucial footfall to city centres, those assets are available to be used in imaginative ways that will make people want to go to their town centres. These projects would be aimed primarily at families and children, although some projects, building on existing work in libraries, could be aimed at unemployed people, and those wishing to start small businesses.
Museums and libraries have staff with skills and experience in doing exciting things, from family-friendly interactive exhibitions, to story-telling, reading groups, local history, etc. Theatres, too, and orchestras, dance companies, all usually have associated educational projects. Most have been run for years on small budgets, but the possibility of scaling up, if necessary using highly-skilled unemployed people (on FDR’s New Deal model, which used actors, photographers etc.) is likely to be realisable in a short time frame.
A relatively small amount of cash (compared to wider pandemic spending) from central government under both national and (critically) local leadership from professional partners could provide a programme of exciting events, tailored to local needs and resources that draw in visitors, both as individuals and families, and through partnerships with schools and colleges. Perhaps even BBC local radio could be part of the mix?
Reorienting centres previously dominated by retail to focus on civic assets could provide a quick boost to footfall which would have benefits for the private sector, too, particularly if coupled with imaginative tax breaks. And the educational benefits of such projects would give children more structured and educational opportunities for socialisation with their peers to add value to resumed formal schooling. Whilst this idea is arts dominated (not everywhere- there are many good science and industry museums), access to music, drama and reading has a well-established capacity to improve performance in all subjects, not least through focus and discipline. The popularity of TV talents shows, and practical skills formats suggest that there is an appetite for participation, and a popular narrative into which these ideas could be slotted and sold.
But to work, this would all need to be done to the highest standard. Citizens need to be excited by these projects. Fortunately we already have the physical assets, we have the personnel, and we have the proven need. It wouldn’t take long to creat National, and local plans, ready to go in weeks.