Today Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, and the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Cllr. Abi Brown, met with community businesses on the high street to learn how community-led regeneration can revitalise struggling high streets across the area.
Community spaces are vital for tackling the cost-of-living crisis. They provide employment opportunities and a destination space for people to gather and learn. Many also offer training to help support those furthest from the job market back into work.
The MP and councillor visited Urban Wilderness CIC, a community-led creative collective who specialise in transformational art experiences that disrupt public spaces and suggest alternative relationships between people, place, and the environment. The company runs a multitude of workshops and clubs offering a range of group activities, hosted in the Longton Exchange, in an empty retail space-turned workshop, gallery, and office space.
Jack Brereton MP met with Chris Ward, shopping centre manager at the Longton Exchange. The shopping centre houses a selection of small businesses, and prides itself on supporting the local community with a variety of business uses.
The MP and councillor were joined on the tour by Tim Davies-Pugh, CEO of Power to Change, and Nick Plumb of Power to Change and board member of the High Streets Task Force.
Power to Change is calling for a new £350million High Street Buyout Fund that will help local communities secure property on the high street and support a transition away from the failing retail-dominated high street to new, diversified high street that puts community in the driving seat. It is specifically calling on government to invest £100million of Levelling Up Fund money to help capitalise the fund.
Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South commented: “I would like to say a huge thank you to Power to Change for their visit to Longton today to look at how we can support the revival of our local high street. It was great to show them around, hear about the work they do and see how they can help support our local town centres.
“Levelling Up Stoke-on-Trent is one of my key priorities. Town centres like Longton are in desperate need of regeneration after decades of neglect and decline. I was pleased to be joined on parts of the visit by Cllr Abi Brown, Leader of the City Council, Chris Ward, the manager of Longton Exchange, and representatives from Urban Wilderness in Longton. We also met with a number of local high street traders to discuss ways in which the town centre can be improved to help local small businesses in Longton grow and thrive. Over the last year, we have received huge amounts of funds from the Government’s Levelling Up funds including money to be spent on Longton.
“I will continue to work with the City Council, business owners, and colleagues in Westminster, to ensure that town centres like Longton get the support they need.”
The benefits of community-ownership
The visits highlighted the role community organisations can play in restoring civic pride and spreading opportunity to communities across Stoke-on-Trent. Community-owned spaces contribute £220m to the UK economy, and 56p of every £1 they spend stays in the local economy, compared with just 40p for large private sector firms. Where there is community ownership on a high street, vacancy rates are reduced.
Despite the clear benefits of community ownership on the high street, community organisations and local people often face an uphill battle when trying to secure space in their town centres. Access to capital which can move at the pace of private investors is lacking. The skills necessary to navigate the commercial property market, whether renting or buying, exist in pockets but are not widespread.
Tim Davies-Pugh, CEO of Power to Change, said: “At Power to Change we know that community businesses like Urban Wilderness can help save our struggling high streets. These organisations bring long-lasting change to the communities around them, by offering alternatives that bolster the traditional retail model.
“The difference these community organisations provide are now more vital than ever, as we see people struggle under the cost-of-living crisis. The solution is simple. Supporting community access to and ownership of high street buildings for community businesses like Urban Wilderness can have a powerful impact on tackling vacancy rates and revitalising town centres like those here in Stoke.”