back to blog


‘Saving the High Street: The Community Takeover’ – report by Power to Change

From Commodify to Community: How to Save the High Street

ftwork helped facilitate a recent Power to Change workshop on ‘the new civic high street’. This was part of a series of discussions about the future of the high street, for which Power to Change prepared a valuable report, ‘Saving the High Street: The Community Takeover’ . This summary is by Harrison Sharkey.

The paper examines examples of community business operating in high streets or town centres across the UK and aims to build a better understanding of the potential role of community business in supporting the regeneration of high streets.

According to Power to Change there are four key characteristics that define a community business: they are locally rooted; they are accountable to the local community; they trade for the benefit of the local community; and they have a broad community impact.

In the report, six case studies are used that demonstrate the importance of community business as ‘destination places’ which draw people back to the high street and help to increase footfall – especially in a post-Covid context. The case studies also portray the importance of community businesses to diversify the high street and complement rather than compete with other high street businesses.

Additional benefits of community businesses to the rest of the high street are identified: building resilience; building links with other businesses (thus increasing collaboration); shaping a vision for the high street. Moreover, these case studies seek to show how support for asset ownership and management can give back more control and enable unified regeneration strategies.

The case studies similarly demonstrate different difficulties faced by community groups such as gaining access to assets and making the transition from grassroots fundraising to running a successful community business. Local authorities and other statutory funders are presented as playing the crucial role in supporting community businesses through these challenges. The report outlines three principles for LAs wishing to facilitate the growth of community businesses and one principle for community businesses looking to move onto the local high street.

The first principle for LAs is ‘providing flexible finance for establishment, growth and sustainability’. LAs must enable flexible funding to help community businesses to move from being an ambition of the community to a successful business.

LAs must also enable access to high street locations (properties) by community businesses which is achieved through supporting greater community ownership, meanwhile use of buildings, provided leases which start at low level and scale up gradually.

Finally, LAs must build effective, clear and collaborative long-term relationships with community groups and businesses with designated policies for community businesses, having community business representatives in the governing bodies of Business Improvement Districts, and ensuring community businesses are represented in local economic development.

The one principle outlined for community businesses is ‘to prepare for opportunities’: through the construction of necessary structures and frameworks, in order to take advantage of high street assets when they become available; along with the ability to sustain activity within these properties. They can prepare for opportunities by ensuring they are able to demonstrate financial sustainability with a robust business plan; ensure they have ‘fit-for-purpose’ governance to manage assets; use community shares as a way of securing community involvement; and build connections with LAs and other statutory agencies.

The importance of local government in ensuring the success of community business cannot be overlooked and neither can the support that community businesses need, especially in the wake of Covid-19 and various national lockdowns, and they may need more support now than ever before.

November 2020

submit your own question or comment

previous thought


"Next decade will refocus our industry on community value". Clare Richards on the importance of NLA's Community Prize

read more

next thought


Collaborative work, works! See some evidence...

read more