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Why the high street needs reinventing after COVID

27 July 2021

New research shows that Brits are worried about the continuing decline of the high street, a process that has been accelerated by the pandemic.

A report on the future of the local high street by law firm Withers has found that 70% of Brits say their local high street has been fundamentally changed by the pandemic and they have concerns about its future.

But despite local shopping habits set to change post-pandemic, nearly half (40%) of those polled said they would be prepared to pay 10% more to shop locally, highlighting the value of convenience.

Across the country, the findings show that residents expressed concern about the state of their local high street, with many nervous about the number of empty units (69%) and over half (52%) fearful that shops and restaurants they value will close in the coming year. One in three (33%) are worried that independent businesses will close down and be replaced by chain stores.

The survey found that the local shops and amenities seen as most valuable are:

  • Food, DIY stores, chemists and Post Offices (cited by 58%)
  • Independent retailers (50%)
  • Independent cafes, restaurants and pubs (46%)
  • Green spaces (38%)
  • Doctors and dentists (38%)
  • Takeaway food outlets (36%)
  • Beauty salons and hairdressers (36%)
  • Bookshops (32%)

Looking to the future, nearly half (46%) would like to see their local authority taking more proactive steps to improve their local high street, while a quarter (24%) believe it is the community that should take over the running of some or all key buildings.

Over a quarter (26%) would like to see a greater balance of chain and independently-run businesses, while more than one in ten (13%) would like to see only independently-run businesses on their local high street.

"Without doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already challenging situation on our high streets and accelerated the need for action," said Jeremy Wakeham, ceo of the Withers Business Division. "Yet there is hope and opportunity for those willing to innovate and collaborate; our research has shown that people really do want their local area to succeed … local authorities, landlords and communities must create new partnerships and ownership models that will not only serve the varied needs of those living in the area but will also create destinations that attract both visitors and consumers. Thriving high streets of the future will not rely on retail alone, but a carefully curated mix of services that meet the community's demands."

Bill Grimsey, ex retailer and contributor to the Withers report said: "The media loves this idea that the high street has to be 'saved', but I think you should drop the 'save' and replace it with 'reinvent'. It's all about developing social places that are fit for the 21st century."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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