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The Future of the High Street

What will our High Streets look like post Pandemic?

A question none of us would have even contemplated this time last year. Sure, we would have questioned the longevity and sustainability of independent business as they had been suffering for many years from online competition, not to mention, the chains opening stores on every high street. However now the tides may be turning, as less people are commuting into cities and large towns and with many working from home until further notice, smaller, local high streets are the new ‘in’ place to be.

Since the UK entered Lockdown in mid-late March shockwaves were felt in almost all industries and sectors as we all stayed at home, and our spending habits quite literally changed overnight. However, as we enter the final quarter of 2020, we’re all slowly venturing out for more frequent food shops and grabbing our much missed barista coffees, not to mention eating out thanks to the latest government scheme aimed at kick starting the economy. This said most people are sticking to local stores and venues not only because they want to support local and family run businesses, but also for convenience as far less people are venturing into the cities these days, as commuting is something that very few of us have missed.

During Lockdown, the smallest businesses were the ones hit hardest, as a halt on income and footfall meant steep rents, as well as overheads and stagnant stock left them having 0-little cash flow. All of the above paired with the fact that most businesses are locked into leases with their landlords, means many face bankruptcy if they cannot keep their businesses going or find alternative revenue generating uses for their premises. We have even seen the giants of the high-street fall with the likes of Debenhams, John Lewis, Cafe Rouge, Pret and many more closing stores nationwide. So, the question arises with these high street staples now gone, who or what will take their place?

This is where an Architect can envision and assist with the possible re-purposing of spaces and vacant stores/shop fronts, to offer them a future life. This concept could consist of turning shops into residential accommodation or single use cafes and nurseries into dual spaces, meaning they could be used as something else on weekends or during different seasons. Essentially an architecture firm can help, re-imagine, re-plan and achieve the legal consents to allow businesses to be flexible and creative, to make sure they remain agile in a fast changing and difficult time (both post / during Covid).

In fact as a firm, at Unit One Architects we have already been able to assist a business through the architectural approach to finding the correct business strategy in order to be able to navigate these troubled times.

Lollipops Cafe, a nursery & soft play café in Bournemouth was in danger of going out of business but the owners came to us and asked if we could find an alternative use for the space. We achieved planning permission in July for a change of use of the day nursery / soft play centre to also have a dual use for a residential holiday let. This is quite unusual as you usually have permission for one or the other, but with the dual use permission they can operate as both a soft play centre and a holiday home, switching between the uses according to the seasons and the demand.

Lollipops are currently just finishing converting part of the building into 3 bedrooms, leaving the soft play café as fully functional at the front of the building. Therefore, they can continue to offer a great play space for children and a space for parents to have a coffee and a chat but also the building has been re-purposed so that it can also function as a really quirky holiday let with 3 beds, sleeps 10 adults plus 2 cot spaces. So, 2 or even 3 families can share the space for a weekend or longer over the summer and have a really cool adventure play space for the children within close proximity to the beach.

At Unit One Architects we can help businesses assess their needs and help people find new uses that they can operate from the same premises, allowing them to keep their current businesses going whilst supplementing income with another use. We can help people think outside the box and plan their way forward so that they can protect their existing businesses and make sure that the rent and bills are paid. It does not matter if businesses owners own the property owners or are renting from a landlord (as long as landlords give consent). Unit One Architects can help by using the planning system to allow business owners make a new move that can make a significant financial difference.

The future of the high street is unknown, and it is only with time that we will be able to get a clearer idea of where the current trends and restrictions will lead us. We can see a pattern towards people travelling and commuting less and yet also still needing some sort of social interaction. Therefore, the high street will not end completely but it does need to be able to evolve to deal with significantly reduced footfall and altered buying patterns and consumer behaviour.

Unit One Architects can help businesses navigate these changes so that companies remain footloose and responsive to this rapidly changing environment.