In a recent article in the Financial Times, High streets face a ‘new normal with old problems’, Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power to Change wrote about her vision for high streets of the future. Power to Change is an important source of funds for community business, Heart of Hastings being one
local recipient of such funding.

As Vidhaya says in the article: “High streets are not just collections of shops and restaurants. They are the heart and soul of a city, town or neighbourhood. They are community hubs where people come together and they fundamentally shape the identity of where we live.”

The old?

She describes how high streets were as much civic as commercial, before the growth of consumer culture, with guildhalls, churches and public meeting spaces mixed in with stores and markets and how, before Covid-19, there was growing recognition that the future for high streets lay in meeting our need for a sense of community and that, coming out of the crisis, we must learn to build on that need.

She describes how the Baltic Triangle, a community-owned business, transformed an area of Liverpool that was derelict and unproductive into a vibrant digital and creative quarter, incubating new small businesses and creating hundreds of jobs, much like Heart of Hastings is doing in the similarly named ‘Trinity Triangle’ (See page 7, 4th July Hastings own Independents’ Day).

She goes on to say: “We have a chance to build on the recent explosion of community spirit and put people in charge of the future of their high streets. But that will require some big moves.”

“Big moves” such as putting high street properties directly into community ownership as community owned shops are far less likely to remain empty.

The new?

Another step, so important in our own town, is to get councils working with community organisations to develop long-term strategies for their high streets. And she urges councils to stop focusing on raw infrastructure and “recognise that it’s the businesses on a high street that give places their vitality and meaning” and to “support a new wave of local entrepreneurship – from makerspaces to bike repair shops and everything in between”.

It sounds like the direction that Hastings is already trying to head. All it needs now is more council involvement.

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