Hebden Bridge Town Hall featured in new report about the future of local high streets

Hebden Bridge Town Hall is one of only a handful of community-owned Town Halls in the UK.

Sunday, 11th July 2021, 12:00 pm
Hebden Bridge Town Hall
Hebden Bridge Town Hall

Hebden Bridge’s community-owned Town Hall, which offers social and business space to local residents, has recently been featured in a new report from international law firm Withers as a leading example of how communities can regenerate their local high street by transforming key buildings into vibrant neighbourhood hubs.

The report discusses how the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for the innovative transformation of high streets, with Hebden Bridge Town Hall cited as a successful example of how community-led vision can create new spaces to cater to the needs of local people and to increase business on the high street.

It follows research by Withers into consumers' attitudes to neighbourhood amenities and community spaces. It revealed that seven in ten (70%) think their local high street has been fundamentally changed by Covid-19 and are concerned about its future.

Nationwide, people expressed concern about the state of their high street, with many nervous about the number of empty units (69%), over half (52%) fearful that shops and restaurants they value will close in the coming year, and one in three (33%) worried that independent businesses will close, resulting in chains taking ovee.

Despite more than three-quarters (78%) of people altering how much they used their local high street in the last 12 months, the majority (80%) of those who used nearby conveniences more said this will not continue when all Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Nearly half (46%) would like to see their local authority taking more proactive steps to improve their local high street, while a quarter (24%) believe it is the community that should take over the running of some or all key buildings.

Hebden Bridge Town Hall, which is one of only a handful of community-owned Town Halls in the UK, is featured in the ‘choosing local’ and ‘office on your doorstep’ sections of the report.

Throughout the last year and a half, the Community Association, which manages the building, has seen increased demand for flexible working space from former office-based employees who have sought to escape the confines of their homes.

Graham Mynott, executive director of Hebden Bridge Community Association said: “In the town hall we have 34 business units – we’re full – we can’t cope with the demand, and we’ve turned room hire spaces back into offices too.”

He also believes that local business is vital for a vibrant high street, saying: “local business gives people a particular connection to the high street over and above it being somewhere to just go and shop. There is a very strong desire to retain independent shops and businesses in Hebden Bridge and there are some really good examples of that.”

Jeremy Wakeham, CEO of the Withers Business Division and a commercial real estate partner added: “Without doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened an already challenging situation on our high streets and accelerated the need for action. Yet there is hope and opportunity for those willing to innovate and collaborative – like the team Hebden Bridge Town Hall. Our research has shown that people really do want their local area to succeed. Coming out of lockdown, and spending more time in their local high street, they want to have a community hub on their doorstep where they can shop, socialise, work and be entertained.

“What is also fundamentally clear is that local authorities, landlords and communities must create new partnerships and ownership models like the Town Hall that will not only serve the varied needs of those living in the area but will also create destinations that attract both visitors and consumers. Thriving high streets of the future will not rely on retail alone, but a carefully curated mix of services that meet the community's demands.”

Bill Grimsey, ex retailer and contributor to the Withers report said: “The media loves this idea that the high street has to be ‘saved’, but I think you should drop the ‘save’ and replace it with ‘reinvent’. It’s all about developing social places that are fit for the 21st century.”

Claire Bailey, founder of The Retail Champion and Creator of The Future High Street Summit agreed, adding: “The high street isn’t going away, nor is it dying, but it is transforming, changing in purpose and function.

“High streets must adapt, and they can do that most effectively with proactive support from place managers (local authorities, BIDs etc), and through collaboration between all the businesses and organisations that operate within the high streets.

“High streets are there to provide local services, and it’s only by assessing the community, indeed by engaging them and discovering why they use a place, and why they don’t, can high streets evolve to meet the needs of the local community.”

Nick Plumb, Policy Manager at power to change said: “The fact that people are spending more time closer to home has the potential to have a really positive impact through increased localisation and strengthened community spirit.

"The revival of a ‘civic high street’ is a phrase we’ve been using – a century ago high streets were the hub of the local community. They were mixed use and not as dominated by retail as they are today. How we rebuild the civic high street for the 21st century is a question we’re grappling with, and we think community ownership is key to this.”