Friday 26 October 2018 1:45 pm

Reimagining the way we use space could reawaken our deserted high streets


A group of some of the biggest restaurants in the UK have called on the government to tax web giants in order to save the high street.

Since 2008, 11,000 major high street outlets have gone bust, while 1,500 restaurant insolvencies were reported in the UK in 2017, and 15,000 more are under threat.

The restaurant sector is wrestling with the concatenating circumstances of tighter consumer spending, business rate hikes, and ecommerce behemoths paying 20 times less tax than UK restaurants expend on competitive locations.

With no checks yet in place to prevent big web companies from dominating the retail sector, rethinking the way we use space could be the answer to reviving the ailing high street.

With half of the UK’s workforce is projected to be freelance by 2020, remote jobs and flexible working are clearly here to stay.

The high street can adapt to this change by encouraging people to use their spaces to hot-desk.

Workers utilising under-used daytime spaces in cafes and restaurants to freelance would bring people through the door and lead to a much-needed upswing in refreshments bought during the day – which can be dead hours for many high street restaurants, cafes and bars.

This is already happening in some cities, with startups in the US and the UK partnering with restaurants, bars and cafes to upgrade wifi provision, rethink the way space is laid out, and offer apps and online services to connect workers to relevant spaces.

By repurposing these spaces, these companies provide an economical solution for all involved, allowing property owners to maximise earning potential by making money in their off-hours, while providing more flexible and cheaper methods for remote working.

With more people than ever working remotely, including employees from SMEs and major corporations, many are seeking cost effective flexible working spaces. And latent capacity can be optimised by reworking areas of the high street to encourage footfall.

The creation of retail hubs is another way space reprogramming can act to reawaken the high street – through banding groups of shops together to spare space, the store is cheaper to operate.

Gatherings of multi-use businesses can be united under one banner and website or positioned as an interactive destination.

Collaborating with complementary retailers and brands and ensuring the area can double up for other uses –such as serving as an event or co-working space – adds a community element and ensures consumers are happy to spend more hours there, take advantage of more of the high street’s services, and are likely to spend money.

Supermarket sprawl, out-of-town shopping, and the internet have all contributed to the creation of a shopping mono-culture on the high street.

By redesigning streets to encourage lingering, instead of being constructed to optimise the passage of cars and people, we can motivate consumers to move more slowly within a space – making it more creative and sociable.

Promoting more community uses for space would stimulate people to remain in places for longer.

Networking together, collaborating on a work project, uniting to attend a local art or tech project, would create relationships and attract people to a place.

As they stay longer, people are consequently more likely to make use of the services around, including shops, restaurants and cafes.

Re-imagining high streets as destinations for socialising, culture, work and creativity would reawaken deserted spaces and open the high street up to new uses for a greater variety of people.