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Five ways to fix our ailing High Streets

From BBC - November 13, 2017

There are more shop closures on our High Streets than there are openings, so how can we encourage people to stop checking out of these once thriving centres?

Research from the Local Data Company showed that 14 shops closed every day in the first half of this year, in what was actually the lowest level of closures in seven years.

Last week, a survey - carried out for BBC Radio 4's You and Yours - found that in 12 government-funded "Portas Pilot" towns, nearly 1,000 shops had disappeared in five years.

We asked Mary Portas and other commentators how to make our High Streets fit for purpose in the years to come.

1. Make it a destination

It may be better known for its football than its fashion but Blackburn was crowned the "winner of winners" in last year's Great British High Street Awards.

Harriet Roberts is a manager for Business Improvement District (BID) Blackburn and she said a lot of her work was about changing perceptions.

Much of this has been done through events held in the town centre.

Blackburn has not settled for the usual Christmas lights switch-on ceremony, but instead planned an art installation complete with aerial performances, as well as a lantern parade and festive 'street feast'.

"You market them in a commercial way and target battleground areas," Harriet explained. "We are really ambitious. It gets people into the centre and then they will come back."

The BID invested the award prize money it won into market stalls which can be used for pop-up street fairs throughout the year.

2. Not just shops

"People need to stop using the term High Streets," Harriet Roberts said.

"Town centres are a place where people come to learn, for public services, to live and share time. They have to have the whole mix and keep moving."

In Blackburn, empty shops have been turned into office spaces or a cocktail bar and the latest research shows that coffee shops, beauty salons and ice cream parlours are increasing in number across the UK.

Mary Portas argues this is exactly what should be happening to adapt to how people are living now.

"We are spending our money on fitness, eating out and wellbeing," she said. "We should be building the right places and spaces for how people want to live."

3. Offline, meet online

The decline of the High Street has been charted alongside the continued rise of the online market.

But the two need not work against each other.

"Online and offline must merge together," said Lyndsay King.

Ms King launched Save The High Street in 2016 with Alex Schlagman.

The campaign is championing what she calls a "connected digital High Street" and now has a board of more than 300 independent retailers from across the UK.

She says all retailers, no matter how small, should be able to offer a basic e-commerce platform so customers can shop in whatever way is convenient for them.

"Customers can see what is in store before taking the trip to the High Street or they can choose to order direct from the shop," Ms King said.

4. In-store experience

5. Lower rates, more support

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