It’s no secret that local high streets have been ailing over the years. But now the English Heritage thinks we could save our historic high streets by giving our buildings a little TLC.
High street advocate Mary Portas thinks local high streets can be restored to their former glory by recognising them as hubs of social interaction. But English Heritage has its own ideas of how our local high streets can be regenerated.
Reviving historic high streets
In its latest research, English Heritage identified a number of areas across England where imaginative approaches toward historic buildings has improved footfall and attracted retailers.
It believes that spending money to improve and repurpose listed buildings, such as market halls, could help local towns to showcase their history and make the local high street more of a draw for visitors. For example, the town of Bolton remodelled its listed market hall to create an attractive new retail space.
I can relate to this, as I live in the beautiful, historic town of Rochester in Kent. It’s home to a magnificent Cathedral (built in 604AD), a siege Castle, Charles Dickens’ summer house, and a quaint cobbled high-street lined with higgledy-piggledy Tudor buildings. Frankly, there’s nowhere I’d rather do my shopping.
However, despite its historic appeal, Rochester high street is far from the bustling hive of activity it should be. And if I were to guess why, I’d say this was due in part to the neglect of various buildings in the area, as well as the lack of independent retailers who can afford to set up shop.
This little high street is absolutely ideal for independent shops. Despite a hugely thriving local arts and crafts scene, many of the units on the high street remain unused.
And research from the English Heritage proves how attractive independent retailers can be for local visitors. It found that the town of Brixton managed to attract tenants for its under-used historic space by implementing peppercorn rents – or a nominal, ‘token’ amount of rent. As a result, footfall increased dramatically and a vibrant atmosphere was created around this hub of independent shops.
A day out to the high street
Another of my favourite high streets is Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The historic high street here, known as The Pantiles, is home to a range of small boutiques and a shopping arcade found in the town’s old Corn Exchange Building. It also features a colonnaded walkway, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
So although there are high streets much closer to where I live, I’ll always make a special effort to visit one of these historic high streets, with all the charm and character they bring to the trip. And this is the goal of English Heritage, which believes that a focus on the historical charm of our high streets could help turn them into ‘destinations’ in their own right.
Does your local high street hold any historic character? Do you think historic high streets could be improved with a little more love and attention?