The future high street: perspectives on living, learning, and livelihoods in our communities

This report from the Future Spaces Foundation explores what the future of the high street could look like, moving beyond just retail provision. Instead, potential future scenarios of Britain’s high streets are provided and policy recommendations outlined. The report covers topics such as community cohesion; employment; accessibility and transport; wellbeing and health. Three case studies are also provided to show how the report recommendations can apply to real high streets in practice: Barnsley, Stoke-on-Trent, and Swindon.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This report from the Future Spaces Foundation begins by suggesting that British high streets are facing an identity crisis due to a traditional over-focus on retail provision, and not always adapting to structural and consumer behaviour changes. Key challenges and/or opportunities for high streets outlined in the report include an ageing, growing and diversifying population; digital consumption; and consumer confidence levels. In order to address such issues, the authors argue that high streets need to be multifunctional, moving away from the traditional over-focus on retail provision (p.6):

Historically, high streets have provided a range of uses, but in the post-war decades in particular, many high streets within town centres have become primarily thought of as the principal shopping areas for most towns and cities... The continuing role played by high streets in providing high concentrations of office-based employment, as well as social, public service and leisure facilities, has been regularly overlooked or downplayed.

The team behind the report - with expertise in retail, psychology, economics, community groups, arts and culture, and transport – therefore provide potential solutions to the problems historically facing high streets, and policy recommendations for revitalising them, within areas such as public services and community cohesion; employment; accessibility and transport; wellbeing and health, as summarised below.

Public services and community cohesion

  1. Re-concentration of public services around the high street
  2. Re-design of education within the community
  3. Diversification of community space
  4. Community empowerment

Commercial drivers and employment

  1. Renaissance of small-scale production and local sourcing
  2. A mobile-enabled and locally-networked high street
  3. Flexible spaces for retail, leisure, and work

Transport and accessibility 

  1. De-stigmatisation of bus travel
  2. An overhaul of car parking policy
  3. Design with pedestrians and cyclists in mind
  4. Transport infrastructure designed for multiple uses

Wellbeing and health

  1. Providing more housing within town centres
  2. Facilitating shared experiences
  3. Designing with mental and physical health in mind.

These report recommendations are subsequently applied to three places to ensure their applicability to high streets in practice: Barnsley, Stoke-on-Trent, and Swindon.