Last year, the Government commissioned retail consultant Mary Portas
to conduct an independent review of the future of Britain's high streets. Some might say we should embrace the death of the high street
; not her, and she came up with some original ideas, including that they should not be just be about selling goods.
Following her recommendations, the GLA
dipped into its coffers and came up with £2.4 million for a series of pilots, with an additional £300,000 for a further three London projects
"A dedicated group of volunteers working together across Sydenham, Forest Hill and Kirkdale bid for £80,000 to revitalise the high street and won one of 27 Portas Pilot grants in the second round of bidding".
Louise Brooks is running this, and she took time out from her busy schedule to speak to us, busy being the word. Yesterday I saw her and her team working frantically in one of their projects, at 27 Sydenham Road, which was briefly an Iranian supermarket. This has now become Jill, Sydenham Community Hub. Jack will follow shortly!
AB: What does SEE3 stand for?
Louise Brooks: SEE3
is literally an invitation to see three unique and distinct areas: Sydenham, Kirkdale and Forest Hill.
AB: Your website says you are a local resident and business owner; from your photograph you're obviously young. Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself, your CV?
LB: I'm older than I look ;o) I got involved in the Portas Pilot because I am passionate about high street regeneration. When I had my eldest child 5 years ago I started spending a lot of time locally and recognised an untapped potential in our high streets and shops. As a result I set up Bake
, a local marketing consultancy specialising in high street businesses with the aim of helping them remain competitive in a difficult economic climate.
From here my attention has turned to the bigger picture asking myself: how can we create a catalyst for change on a large scale? I felt that empty shops were the key. I had seen what had been achieved by the arts movement with organisations like the Empty Shops Network
, and by Spacemakers
with Brixton Village
and similar models, wondering if we could achieve something similar in South East London. This was the basis for my thinking when designing the initiative now know as The Shop Revolution.
AB: What exactly is a pop up shop?
LB: A pop up shop is a temporary shop; one that is open for a temporary period. We are using pop up shops in the SEE3 area as a way to stimulate demand for empty units and to introduce interesting businesses to the high streets that meet the wants and needs of the community. In the longterm we aim to build up good relationships with local landlords and the council and drive a reduction in barriers to entry to the high street, which might mean rates relief or lower rental.
AB: Mary Portas and her ideas about revamping the high street will be familiar to many people; why do you think this will work for Sydenham?
Our Portas Pilot covers three areas: Sydenham, Kirkdale and Forest Hill. Mary Portas being a figurehead for this scheme has raised the profile of high streets and the need for regeneration. For us this is a catalyst for change. It's not a huge amount of money we were awarded but it's a start and helps us unite our community to drive change.
AB: What is your eventual goal with regard to Sydenham?
LB: The pop up shops, community hubs and markets are just the start. As our Town Team develops we aim to drive further projects that will benefit the community and help our high streets thrive. For example, a street art project that will build on our identity as an artistic community, already established via our annual Sydenham Arts Festival
and Visual Arts Trail, and Havelock Walk, the artists studios in Forest Hill.
Our long term goal is to have sustainable markets, regular pop up events in empty shops and a self-sufficient Town Team that continues to build high streets for the community.