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Freelancers and self-employed to be at heart of £350m High Street Buyout Fund

High streets were once the beating hearts of our local communities, says Nick Plumb, Policy Manager at Power to Change
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Anyone can start a community business. That’s according to Susie Finlayson, interim head of programme delivery, at Power to Change, the trust that supports community businesses in England.

If Power to Change gets its way, it will spark a £350million High Street Buyout Fund that will help local communities secure property on the high street and support a transition away from what it calls “the failing retail-dominated high street. The alternative would be a new, diversified high street that puts the community in the driving seat.

The fund, said a Power to Change report, will be designed to act quickly to purchase empty, important buildings, holding them until communities have the funds and structure to run the building for the long-term.

A High Street Buyout Fund could be a transformational measure to help communities purchase assets on the high street, with the potential to transform over 200 neglected high street properties across the country by leveraging £250m of private and commercial and social investment against a £100m government grant.

Jo Bambrough, Managing Director of Good Things Collective said: “The high street is often the heart of a town, what happens to the buildings there is really important. This fund could be the difference between developers coming into a town and deciding what people need, or levelling the playing field and giving communities an opportunity to do something about empty buildings. It would protect communities interests long term, and can hugely impact people’s quality of life at a local level.” 

“High streets were once the beating hearts of our local communities, but the growth of out-of-town retail; the rise of megastores; a seismic shift towards online shopping; and more recently a cost-of-living crisis has left them vulnerable,” said Nick Plumb, Policy Manager at Power to Change.

The partnership with Selina also includes the ability for these workers to connect through in-person events and meetups as a means to combat loneliness.

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What is a Community-led High Street?

Power to Change and the Local Data Company found that a record 16 per cent of shops on Britain’s high streets stand empty, and one in every twenty vacant units have been shuttered up for more than three years. The community-led high street concert is a central element of the solution to these challenges.

For example, community-owned spaces contribute £220m to the UK economy, and 56p of every £1 they spend stays in the local economy, compared with just 40p for large private sector firms.

Where there is community ownership on a high street, vacancy rates are reduced. Importantly, these spaces provide affordable, appropriate services and products for the community – they more nimbly meet shifting local demand than traditional high street occupants.

Power to Change

Power to Change’s report, Community businesses and high streets: ‘taking back’ and leading forward said its purpose is to pave a path forward for the government to regenerate UK high streets, recommending:

  • Prioritise use value over land value in regeneration schemes
  • Incentivise partnership rather than competition – long-term finance, awarded at least in part on the depth of collaboration involved, needs to become the norm
  • Support revenue spending, as well as capital programmes – investing in places, begins with investing in people
  • Start to address long-term challenges such as local government finance and property law –these cannot be repaired on an ad-hoc and piecemeal basis

The report also offers recommendations for local authorities, property owners and agents, community businesses and funders to support high streets.

Plumb said this report makes clear what we know: that greater community ownership and involvement in the high street will push back against these worrying trends.

“A High Street Buyout Fund will help local people overcome the barriers they face, such as access to money at speed, in taking ownership of their high streets. We need this radical action now to ensure our much-loved community spaces survive and thrive,” he said. 

Have an idea for a community business that you think freelancers would be perfect for? Please share your idea!

How to start a community business in 5 steps – The Big Issue

Choosing the right organisational structure for your group – MyCommunity

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