The Co-operative Group’s new purpose is “championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities” so it is fitting that we should be playing such a pivotal role in a new initiative to transform UK high streets.
The Group is one of four corporate supporters of the new Healthy High Streets campaign by Business in The Community (BiTC), a charity promoting corporate responsibility. The first 29 of 100 towns across the UK have been announced and we will be playing our part in all of them but we are championing seven: Elgin; Kettering; Liskeard; Maidenhead; Minehead; Penzance and Wisbech.
The chosen towns will now receive:
- A bespoke package of support tailored to the exact needs of the high street
- Access and engagement with corporate business leaders personally and professionally interested in the high street
- A local corporate business leader linked with the local partnership team to support the vision for the high street
- Resources from campaign partner organisations – such as Business Improvement Districts (with British BIDs) and the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC)
These new partnerships with business will help towns to drive footfall, occupy vacant properties and ultimately create jobs. The working party has deliberately set challenging but realistic targets, ultimately aiming to create 3,000 jobs, increase footfall by 10% and reduce empty property units by 20% over a three-year period in the selected towns.
I was closely involved in the Mary Portas Towns initiative and one of the lessons we learnt was that big businesses have a major part to play in helping to revive the high street.That is why this campaign is designed to enable large corporates to collaborate and bring their combined skills and expertise together to support high streets in need, over a minimum of three years. Built around the needs of the area, the Healthy High Streets Campaign uses a systematic framework to support businesses, local authorities and local communities to work together with impact.
I believe this innovative project resonates well for all businesses that have the Co-operative above the door and there is a role for all of us to play in generating a local civic responsibility and connecting with the communities in which we trade. The 29 locations have been cross-referenced against the trading portfolios of the independent co-operative societies and I have written to the chief executives who have a branch presence. One of the 29 places is Lincoln, where, of course, our Group chair Ursula Lidbetter is chief executive of Lincoln Co-operative Society and chairman of the city’s business improvement district and chamber of commerce.
This dialogue is ongoing and provides an opportunity for the wider co-operative movement to showcase its commitment to high streets. So far, the responses I have received have been very positive with several firm commitments of support.
Alongside the Group, the other founding partners are Boots UK, Marks & Spencer and Santander. We will all use our business expertise and local knowledge to help others on the high street attract more shoppers.
The Government is also backing the campaign, with high streets minister Brandon Lewis playing a real hands-on role.
The campaign is focused on towns that have demonstrated the need for the support, have potential for growth, have an established or emerging partnership to improve the town and are served by the businesses involved in the campaign.
• For further information and full list of the 29 towns visit: www.bitc.org.uk/programmes/healthy-high-streets
• Martyn Hulme is managing director, Estates, at the Co-operative Group