I don’t want to live in Britain that doesn’t care about community.
That’s one of the first things the shopping and retail personality Mary Portas states in her ‘vision’ which was presented to the government recently for The Portas Review.
It’s a sentiment which every hyperlocal publisher in the country would surely echo so I’ve been thinking more about how websites and blogs could be part of a revolution on the High Street.
The review document contains a total of 28 recommendations which look at every aspect of local retailing from legislative changes to parking provision.
(Disclosure: Talk About Local founder William Perrin was involved in a seminar she organised – more on that here.)
Below I’ve picked out just six ideas which struck me as areas where hyperlocal publishers could pick up the baton and become an integral part of the conversation.
1. Creation of Town Teams. The review’s very first recommendation is put in place “a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets.” Providing the means of communication, not just between the members of this team (although that’s obviously valuable in itself) but also outward facing could be a core part of the town’s hyperlocal activity. Forums, debates, polls and even the simple recording of decisions would all help generate involvement in the shared interests of the local high street.
2. Local offers and deals, coupons services and more: Portas makes special reference to these saying “Today we all live online too. I would like Town Teams to create an online ‘bottom up’ virtual version of their high street which is the easy automatic ‘go to’ for all things to do with your local area. We could use online tools and software to get people thinking and talking about their high street, not as a ‘council of despair’ but to contribute in a positive way. The Virtual High Street would show you all offers, across all shops and businesses….. In addition, the Virtual High Street creates a powerful social forum for people to share and discuss. There’s real potential in finding who lives locally and what skills they can offer to their town.”
3. Harness big business support: Recommendation 16 suggests large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers. Could the hyperlocal website be the interface where some hands-on mentoring is passed on to the traders? Large organisations often have training and other information resources which have no way of being accessed by the community. Tapping into that could fit happily into hyperlocal activity – perhaps regular sessions including a Q and A with representatives from a large retailer, a forum or even a simple repository of tools and useful information could become a valuable resource in the community?
4. Visible accountability: Recommendation 23 suggests the introduction of a public register of high street landlords. A simple publicly shared Google doc would be a cost-free and effective way to ensure up-to-date information on those responsible for empty or dilapidated units. For the more technically minded, maybe geo-located mobile apps could utilise this information or develop a contact tool similar to ‘write to a councillor’ for contact with landlords. This type of visible accountability is an area where heaps of experience already resides with hyperlocal publishers.
5. Campaigning: Portas suggests running a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans noting that out-of-town shopping centres are phenomenally well equipped and experienced at doing this. I’d say many hyperlocal publishers have a wealth of experience in this also but generally more focussed towards issues such as the local environment or local democracy. Concentrating that effort towards the resuscitation of a high street could see a campaign which cuts across many lines of local administration utilising many of the same promotional and organisational skills in multimedia formats, championing a locality. High streets brought to life in video and audio by the very people who live, work and shop there!
6. Experiment: Finally, I was interested to see her suggest running a number of High Street pilots to test proof of concept. She goes on to suggest some ideas to get the ball rolling including swapshops where people share services as well as goods or the creation of a community chest where a pound from people’s purses goes to high street initiatives. They are great ideas but I know there will be equally inspiring ideas coming out of communities up and down the UK. And that’s where I’d like to come in – here at Talk About Local we’d love to work closely with a local community to develop one of these pilots. If you think your town could benefit from working on some of these proposals – drop us a line. We already know, authentic voices shine through. If you would like some help to create a low cost site about your town centre owned and run by local people than drop us a line – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also for any local council officials or councillors interested in advancing this conversation, I shall be at the GovCamp event on Friday where I look forward to meeting representatives and would very much welcome the opportunity to continue this discussion.
But for now, I’ll leave the last word on this to Portas: “High streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect”.