Saving the high street: The community takeover

This 2020 working paper is based on a project, commissioned by Power to Change, and conducted by a team at the London School of Economics, focused on community businesses operating in high streets and town centres. That is, a business that is set up and run by the community in a place to address local challenges and generate positive community impacts. Drawing on six case studies of community businesses, the report provides insights into how they could play an important role in high street regeneration and recovery.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 28 September 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has inspired a sense of community spirit and a renewed focus on shopping local. Accordingly, this 2020 working paper is based on a project commissioned by Power to Change, and conducted by a team at the London School of Economics, focused on community businesses operating in high streets and town centres; that is, those businesses which are:

  1. Locally-rooted
  2. Accountable to the local community
  3. Trade for the benefit of the local community; and
  4. Have a broad community impact.

As the authors explain, there are currently an estimated 9,000 community businesses in England, that employ 33,900 paid staff and 205,600 volunteers (p. 11). And this working paper draws insights from six of these cases across the UK, to share best practice and demonstrate how they could aid high street regeneration:

  • The Old Library, Bodmin
  • Midsteeple Quarter, Dumfries
  • Hebden Bridge Town Centre
  • Made in Ashford, Kent
  • Radcliffe Market Hall, Bury
  • Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford.

Based on these cases, the report outlines several key benefits community businesses can have on high streets, as well as what local authorities can do to facilitate the growth of such businesses, as summarised below.

Potential benefits of community businesses

  • They can help to create ‘destination places’ to enhance footfall and attract visitors.
  • They can increase the diversity of high street users and uses.
  • They can help to build high street resilience by offering important places for communities in times of crisis, and often able to adapt and innovate quickly.
  • They can foster networks and partnership working through building links with other businesses on the high street.
  • They can help to shape high street visions by aiding places in becoming interesting and vibrant.

How local authorities can help

  • Providing flexible finance to community businesses, who often require short-term funding to get up and running.
  • Enabling access into the high street by helping community businesses with trading from properties, for example through promoting ‘meanwhile’ uses of vacant units.
  • Building effective and collaborative long-term relationships with community businesses by placing them at the heart of their strategies.
  • Community businesses need to ensure they are prepared to act when opportunities arise by having effective governance in place, and building local connections.

The report concludes by recognising how the Covid-19 pandemic has further revealed the importance of community businesses, and their potential role in high street recovery (p.46):

“There has been growing recognition that the future for high streets lies in meeting people's desire for more community-centred and vibrant town centres. The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have reinforced this, with more people relying on local high streets and neighbourhood networks to access food and essential services at a time of need... community businesses can (and do) go further in offering a locally-focused and longer-term solution to high street regeneration”.