How We’re Helping Tackle Empty High Streets

“According to the British Retail Consortium, in 2021 14.5% of all shops in the UK were vacant”

15 New Bond Street, Bath.

Take a walk along any UK high street and you’re guaranteed to see empty retail units. According to the British Retail Consortium, in 2021 14.5% of all shops in the UK were vacant. With this ever-growing problem, it has seen the rise of Business Improvement Districts (BIDS), community and council action plans and schemes such as the governments ‘levelling up’ program. In part, the aim of these are to help try and tackle the rise in empty high streets by encouraging community engagement and social interaction, as well as help areas recover from the covid pandemic and respond to the climate emergency.

With so many empty retail units dotted around, it was a fantastic opportunity for us when approached by Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) Council to help breathe some new life into two of their central Bath properties. The Milsom Quarter is an area of Bath that is steeped in history, with beautiful independent shops and hospitality spots. However, the ever-changing nature of the UK’s city centres has meant that the area has seen more vacant properties appear, especially during the recent economic difficulties bought on by the covid pandemic. B&NES Council had highlighted the area for development and came to Double to seek a way to bring life back into Bath high street. Their aim was to ensure that vacant properties were portrayed in their best light, and were looking to use creative ways to do this.

“The Vacant Units Action Project is a series of pilot interventions delivered by B&NES Regeneration Team that uses otherwise vacant properties as a test bed to reimagine the future of our high streets. The physical transformation of these spaces to accommodate a flexible and more diverse set of uses is fundamental to the success of these pilots. It has been great to work with Double who have done a fantastic job in responding to the project’s brief to convert 3 vacant shop spaces into exciting, thriving and flexible hubs across high streets of Bath City Centre and Midsomer Norton.”

Alex Bugden, B&NES

Cheap Street and New Bond Street had been vacant for 2 years. The brief was put together to reinvent the spaces into co-working hubs and multi-use pop-up event spaces. With an already characterful building, we made the most of utilising historic period features, working as much with what was already there as possible. The design enabled maximum flexibility within the space and used an eclectic mix of refurbished furniture and recycled materials. This helped keep costs low and ensured the project considered its environmental impact at every stage.

With the paint still drying on another community project for B&NES Council within the Somerset Market town of Midsomer Norton, it’s great to see how once empty disused spaces can be transformed. However, this is just the tip of a nationwide iceberg. We need to see more being done not just by councils but by businesses to get involved in the communities they inhabit.

We look forward to working on more community projects in the future. Combining modern design, environmental thinking, encouraging social interaction, well-being and a sense of community can play its part in the future that we all want to see within our town centres and high streets.

15 Cheap Street, Bath.

Can I have some more?

The future of retail will be experience – we already know that. But at what cost?

I was asked this week, by a student, what I really thought about the death of the high street, and what ultimately might happen to retail. My answer was clear in my mind; Retail will always be around, I feel sure of that - It will just be lead by experience. Consumers may well focus on purchasing online and we may see stores (as we know them) become showrooms to their products, but it will always exist in some form.
Hand touching reprocessed material board

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