A community-led vision for our high streets

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What role can community business play in reimagining the high street? Vidhya Alakeson explores

How do we get more of this kind of community business activity to benefit our towns and cities? There are four ingredients for success.

– Vidhya Alakeson CEO Power to Change 

As the news from the high street retailers continues to get worse, another trend points the way forward for our town centres: our growing desire to congregate in real places. To keep our town centres vibrant and thriving, we need to broaden our view beyond retail and reimagine them as hubs for our communities where retail, public services, work spaces, housing, leisure and culture all come together.

Last week, Power to Change convened a number of community businesses in Liverpool, building on a similar conversation in Plymouth, to consider the role that community business could play in reimaging high streets in the city. We chose Liverpool because of the strength and entrepreneurialism of its community business networks.  What became clear is that community business offers a better way of doing business for the city, one that keeps money local, provides quality jobs and starts to narrow inequalities.

Community businesses, like other independent businesses that are rooted in place, make money stick locally. The community-run bakery, Homebaked in Anfield turns over £250,000 a year. Of that, £100,000 is spent on wages for local people and the remaining £150,000 is spent with other local businesses. Make Liverpool, which runs creative and maker spaces in the city, reports pretty similar figures. Every penny spent in or by a community business in Liverpool is working for the city. It is not leaking out through wages spent elsewhere, profits distributed beyond the city or suppliers who don’t operate locally. The same is broadly true of community businesses everywhere. Invest to make community businesses flourish and the vast bulk of the investment is benefiting your town or city.

On top of this, community ventures have a strong track record of increasing the value of the area they’re in. Take Baltic CIC as an example. It runs a vast hub for creative and digital businesses, setting up in the Baltic Triangle area of the city in the early 2000s that was largely derelict and empty of residents Its success in drawing in businesses and subsequently consumers has increased land and property values in the Baltic Triangle six fold. A similar story in Toxteth where the community land trust, Granby 4 Streets, has pushed up values locally at least three-fold through community-driven activities such as a monthly street market, refurbishing empty homes and producing unique ceramics at Granby workshop.