On September 14, 2019, UK Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan announced the locations that will receive funding from a £95 million revitalization program for historic high streets (called “Main Streets” in the U.S.) in 69 towns all across the country.
This is the largest-ever single investment the government has ever made in the UK’s built heritage. With these funds, projects across the country will repurpose and renew disused historic buildings into shops, houses and community centers.
Morgan said, “Our nation’s heritage is one of our great calling cards to the world, attracting millions of visitors to beautiful historic buildings that sit at the heart of our communities. It is right that we ensure these buildings are preserved for future generations but it is important that we make them work for the modern world. This £95 million will help breathe new life into high streets all over England, benefiting businesses, supporting our much-loved buildings and helping to make our communities more attractive places to live, work and visit.”
It’s also hoped that this regeneration will help traditional businesses adapt to better compete with online outlets. Increasing competition from online outlets is putting high streets across the country under growing pressure. As part of the Government’s drive to help high streets adapt to changing consumer habits, the £95 million investment intends to breathe new life into historic buildings and downtown areas.
The initiative will be funded by combining £40 million from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund with £52 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Street Fund. £3 million will be provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support a cultural program to engage people in the life and history of their high streets.
The investment builds on the successful Heritage Action Zones program, run by Historic England, and will turn empty and underused buildings into creative spaces, offices, retail outlets and housing to support wider regeneration in the 69 successful areas by attracting future commercial investment.
Communities Secretary of State Robert Jenrick said “I want to make sure the nation’s high streets continue to be at the heart of local communities. Today’s funding, part of the £3.6 billion we have committed to helping towns across the country, will revitalise much-loved historic buildings, helping to reverse the decline of our town centres. Ensuring that prosperity and opportunities are available to everyone in this country, not just those in our biggest cities, is a priority of this Government in our mission to ‘level up’ the regions.”
Historic England’s Chief Executive, Duncan Wilson said “Our high streets are the beating hearts of our communities. Many have roots that go back hundreds of years. Their historic buildings and distinctive character tell the story of how our towns and cities have changed over time. They are places where people come together to socialise, shop, run businesses and be part of their local community, but now they face an uncertain future.”
The funding will be used for a variety of projects, including:
- To complete essential repair works in historic buildings and reveal hidden and forgotten features of buildings by restoring shop-fronts and facades
- Stimulate commercial investment in high streets by demonstrating how historic sites can be successfully repurposed.
- Develop education projects and bespoke events to help reposition historic buildings as community hubs at the heart of local towns and villages.
- Help address the UK wide skills shortage of heritage professionals in expert fields like stonemasonry and conservation by providing local property owners, residents and businesses with the opportunity to train in these areas.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, explained “We are doubling funding to nearly £100 million to revitalise our heritage high streets, ensuring they remain at the heart of our communities for years to come. This will help places across the country – from South Norwood to Scarborough – protect their treasured historic buildings and support local economies to thrive.”
“Through physical improvements and cultural activities, we will work with partners to find new ways to regenerate our high streets. It is a challenge, but with our experience and track record, as well as the knowledge and passion of local councils, businesses and community groups our historic high streets can be thriving social hubs once more,” he concluded.
The funding allocations are as follows:
- £92 million will be provided by the Government and overseen by Historic England to create 69 new High Street Heritage Action Zones.
- £3 million will be provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support a cultural program to engage people in the life and history of their high streets.
Indicative allocation by region:
- London and the South East: £14.3 million
- South West: £13.7 million
- East of England: £7 million
- Midlands: £21.1 million
- North East and Yorkshire: £17.2 million
- North West: £18.7 million
Funded projects include:
- In Tottenham £2 million will be used to restore historic shop-fronts and facades in the commercial heart of the High Road with the aim of increasing economic vitality to boost regeneration in the area;
- In Bedford up to £2 million of funding will be used to reveal the historic features of buildings across the high street, reducing traffic and bringing the wider community back into the area. *Coventry has been awarded £2 million for a project in The Burges, the city’s ancient shopping street. One of the few remaining areas in the city to survive the bombing in the Second World War and the resulting post-war developments. The funding will be used to acquire, restore and regenerate Coventry’s historic buildings to help create a sustainable future for each building;
- Plymouth has bid for £1.99 million funding for regeneration works, education projects and community events to help boost the local high street’s heritage buildings;
- Up to £2 million will be given to Stoke-on-Trent to redevelop vacant buildings within the conservation area with a focus on creating residential spaces above shops within the heritage area; and
- Wigan will use up to £1.27 million to restore vacant historic buildings to help support the creation of jobs and increasing footfall in the area.
Scarborough will make key repair works to buildings as well as providing local property owners, residents and trade people with the opportunity to gain practical heritage skills with up to £2 million from the Heritage High Streets fund.
Photo of high street in Plymouth, UK courtesy of Visit Plymouth.