Back in the ’90s, my Saturdays would normally include a trip to Our Price for a CD or Cassette and maybe a poster of the latest blockbuster from Athena. Sadly these shops closed their doors for the last time many years ago.

In 2008 Woolworths went into administration it should not have been a shock, it no longer knew what it was as a business, selling anything and everything but for me and so many of my generation, it will always have a special place in my heart. The pic ‘n’ mix purchased by my Nan was a highlight of any day, not just because of the sugar. So it was a sad day when Wooly’s shut up shop, but it started something far sadder, it was the beginning of the end for the high street.

Since then we have lost many beloved British high street brands, C&A, Blockbuster, Staples and Thomas Cook, and in many areas, these shops remain boarded up or they have been replaced by Chicken shops, Bookmakers, Payday loan lender or pawn shops. I believe the wellbeing of a community can be directly related to the health of the high street, and we need shops that contribute to our wellbeing not make it worse.

Both big chains and independent retailers have closed in recent years. The decline of the high street has become an all too common news story. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people lost their jobs in the retail sector in 2018. British shopping habits are increasingly moving online and coronavirus could be the nail in the coffin for the high street.

The coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate the decline of the British high street. Back in April the chief executive of the British Property Federation, Melanie Leech, said “inevitably there will be casualties” among retailers, and that predicted 50% reduction in shops on a typical high street was now likely to take place over a shorter timeframe.

The reasons are many … changing shopping habits, lack of Infrastructure, out of town malls, rising business rates and now coronavirus but there are success stories one of my favourites is Argos. I was certain Argos would be a goner, they are essentially a high street Amazon and nobody can compete with the behemoth that is Amazon. But they were agile, they reduced costs by setting up shop in Sainsburys and really improved their digital offering.

The key to surviving in business is to never stop innovating. The most successful businesses are constantly looking at how they can shake things up, whether that’s by embracing technology, re-evaluating their business model, or overhauling company culture.

One business doing this is Timpson. Timpson is a regular in the top 10 of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For. A big part of this is due to the CEO and owner, James Timpson’s, philosophy: “If you treat people well, it is blindingly obvious that they will do a good job.”

Argos & Timpson are well known national brands and they are reason to be hopeful but local businesses are the lifeblood of the high street, I am lucky to have a fantastic butchers, Batchelors, that has been serving the community for over 50 years, supermarkets may be convenient but local businesses are community and every pound spent in local business means wealth stays in the community for longer.

In a post coronavirus world community is more important than ever with government support we can rebuild the high street to become hubs for wellbeing, business and innovation. The salvation of the high street will rely on using vacant premises for good, creating local co-operative community hubs, run by the community for the community.

Community hubs can benefit the community in many more ways that only providing services. They can help build more cohesive and resilient communities, build better and more integrated services transform existing, unused buildings and provide a focus for community-led regeneration.

What is a community hub?

  • Community hubs most commonly operate out of buildings, from which multi-purpose, community-led services are delivered.
  • Community hubs often host other partners and access to public services. These co-location approaches are an efficient and effective use of resources.
  • Community hubs are in themselves a good use of local assets, and the model can help to underpin an enterprising and resilient community organisation.

Hubs and service transformation

  • Community hubs can provide a means for alternative approaches to service delivery underpinned by the principles of community involvement and partnership.
  • Community hubs can facilitate this by providing a place where different local partners in a neighbourhood can come together and address the issues that matter most to them.
  • Community hubs can therefore support a neighbourhood focussed community-led approach.

A thriving high street will bring a sense of pride to areas that have been left behind. The high street will not return the same as it was, but it can return, providing services that match the needs of people today.