Headlines: August 17th, 2009

Areas hardest hit by the recession are to get grants of £50,000 to help find creative ways to reduce the negative impact of empty shops in high streets. Many high streets in areas of high deprivation are seeing empty shops boarded up because of the downturn, which is impacting on consumer and business confidence. The grants will allow the shops to be re-opened as facilities for communities.

The shops could be used as a meeting place, a learning centre or even a showroom for local artists. Other possible uses include making them available for start-up businesses. Wayne Hemmingway has recently launched his street Kiosks for aspiring designers and Neal’s Yard Remedies, the international cosmetics company, started in a disused warehouse in Covent Garden. Planning rules have been changed to make it easier to use vacant shops for a range of other purposes

The grants are part of a package of measures which include the promotion of special temporary community leases called ‘meanwhile uses’ that allow local groups to temporarily use a vacant property rent free while the landlord seeks a permanent new business. This means the landlord reduces his property bills costs and that the building is maintained. With these meanwhile leases, young people could run their own safe space for learning and leisure, local indoor markets could be set up and local artists could help to turn eyesores into local attractions.

The website ?Looking after our town centres guide? launched earlier in the year offers practical help in making sure that town centres reach their full potential, even in tough times. It sets out how councils can encourage activities like traditional retail and farmers markets, local festivals or other entertainments that can bring added attractions to communities and high streets during the downturn.

In addition to the grants, Arts Council England is also announcing an extra £500,000 to help artists turn vacant high street shops into attractive and vibrant places.

Looking after our town centres is available from DCLG