A number of British towns will soon see empty shops turned into ‘vibrant community hubs’ – if a new government scheme comes off.
Revealed by serial announcer and communities secretary James Brokenshire, the Open Doors project encourages landlords to allow their vacant outlets to be transformed by community group into public spaces, making them ‘fit for purpose’.
And as there seem to be almost as many empty shops as occupied ones in most of the high streets I’ve walked down recently, we could end up with quite a lot of community hubs.
According to the government, it will ‘work to match public and private landlords with community groups offering vital services from well-being classes to business support sessions and mentoring for social enterprises’.
A partnership between the government and the Meanwhile Foundation, Open Doors will apparently ‘help tackle social problems linked to declining high streets such as crime, unemployment and loneliness’.
And where can we expect to see some of these things? Well, not in too many places so far: the confirmed locations are Stoke-on-Trent, Bradford, Rochford, Sloug, and Kettering, which is one of the high streets I walk down quite regularly and I can tell you they have a lot of empty shops to choose from.
MP 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.’
And where would we be without a quote from high streets minister Jake Berry? He was born for stories like this. He said: ‘The Open Doors Scheme encourages us to be more creative when tackling the social and economic challenges faced by our communities.
‘This pilot is just a glimpse of what we can do to revamp vacant properties on our high streets, boost more community hubs and create more spaces for people to work, live and shop.’