CEO, Back on the Map
A better place, a stronger community, a local voice. Those are the three guiding principles behind everything we do at Back on the Map, with all three threaded together by the golden thread of being resident-led. Throughout our ten-year history, our approach has always been to build a dialogue with local people, and when we consulted residents after the pandemic in late 2020, local people’s key concern was improving Villette Road – Hendon’s main high street.
Back on the Map already has a presence on the high street in the form of a satellite community production space – The Workshop, plus a community cafe, dedicated homes office and premises which they rent to Decades Antiques, a local antique business. However if the high street was to be transformed, our leadership team knew that work would need to be much more ambitious and strategic.
Planning our high street revolution
Then came the call from Power to Change to pilot Community Improvement Districts with funding of up to £20k plus advice and support. Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) are a new model for governing and regenerating town centres which give community organisations and local people more of a say alongside traditional stakeholders like businesses and councils. This was a perfect opportunity for us to test and develop the plans for Hendon’s High Street Revolution, which we branded as ‘Villette Road – The Heart of Hendon’.
Over 500 residents gave their views on what they wanted for Villette Road and the types of shops they would like to see if vacant units on the street were brought back into use. We’ve been able to respond directly to what people have asked for and now offer community initiatives like a pop up kids clothes shop and a play café as well as activities for young people.
Whilst residents responded with great enthusiasm, unfortunately our traders were initially somewhat apathetic. But in order to be successful we needed trader buy-in. To show progress was happening, we managed to negotiate with the council some quick wins for Villette Road including planters, a 20mph zone and better signage. We convened a regular traders forum, and had conversations with them daily to keep them active and engaged.
Community wealth building
Our Hendon Pound initiative aims to build community wealth, making sure Hendon money stays in our local economy. We encouraged traders to join the Sunderland BID scheme, a gift card for the city, and we were able to facilitate and upgrade their methods of taking payment. This allowed them to register to take the cards and we brought an additional £9,000 of trade to the street – money which otherwise would have gone elsewhere. Although initially skeptical of the CID, one trader now regularly asks for updates and commends us on the pilot – he has seen his takings increase as more customers pay by card.
A particular area of concern raised by existing traders and residents alike was an empty block of shops at a key entrance to Villette Road. The block, a former letting agent and chip shop has been derelict for seven years. As well as being an eyesore, and potentially a deterrent to new traders, the unit is also on a major bus route and is the first thing people see when arriving on Villette Road.
Since the CID pilot went live we are now in negotiation to purchase these key units, bringing them back into use and helping change the perception of Villette Road for the better.
Although initially a one year pilot, the CID will become the focus for future partnership activities, creating a beating heart of the area with services, leisure and shopping. The commitment to the high street development is being embedded in our governance arrangements too with the creation of a Trader Representative Trustee role on our charity board. This trustee will be chosen and will join the board, representing Villette Road’s trader’s interests giving the high street revolution a legacy and a level of self-governance and continuity.
Being part of the Community Improvement District pilot has allowed us to deliver on what the community wants and make Hendon, and Villette Road, a place of opportunity to live, work and thrive.