Scheme launched to turn empty shops into community hubs

The government has released more details of their Open Doors project, which will work with the Meanwhile Foundation to help community groups move into unused retail units.

One in 10 high street shops in the UK are currently empty, with that figure rising to one in eight in Scotland, and the scheme will look to put vacant properties into ‘meanwhile use’ with community groups offering temporary services from well-being classes to business support sessions and mentoring for social enterprises.

The government say they will work to match public and private landlords with community groups and the groups will be able to receive advice from Sir John Timpson’s High Streets Experts Panel.

They hope the partnership will help tackle social problems linked to declining high streets such as crime, unemployment and loneliness.

The confirmed locations that will be part of the scheme are Stoke-on-Trent, Bradford, Rochford, Kettering and Slough.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: ‘Our high streets are the beating heart of the places we call home and make a real difference to the wellbeing of our communities.

‘This pilot is a great way to tackle some of the challenges faced by landlords and communities. It will support groups across the country and demonstrate the potential “meanwhile use” of unused spaces.’

A poll conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) earlier this year revealed that 7 out of 10 people say empty units should be turned into community or charity shops until a permanent store can open.

Last year, New Start spoke to Iain Scott of Can Do Places, an organisation in Scotland that aims to breathe new life into empty properties by encouraging communities to take them over as spaces where they can work, create and trade.

He said: ‘Retail has to go, it’s not about that anymore. It’s so much more interesting to see a building and its multipurpose uses, planning thinking is behind the curve but you can reinvent our towns.’


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