Creative Responses to Zombie High Streets - Report

Thanks to all who attended our discussion last Friday, both invited guests and visitors. The panel was our contribution to the London Festival of Architecture 2018 and focussed upon the future of our High Streets and Town centres

We were joined by the following invited guests as part of a structured discussion:

Sam Neophytou – Art House Cinemas, Crouch End – a current client of our Sam’s focus is on harnessing the creativity of the community in which the cinema sits as a means of dialogue and exchange of ideas

Walter Menteth – is an architect committed to improving the quality of procurement of building design – he was chair of the RIBA Procurement  Reform Group 2011-13, a private practitioner, and senior lecturer at Portsmouth Unversity

Carmen Keren – is  studying for a PhD at the Royal College of Art looking at the relationship between the public realm and health with particular focus on social housing estates - "The 'High Street' has been the focal point of public life for centuries, I am interested in how local communities can become the driving force for its revitalisation."

Jeremy Thornton - Manager of Architecture for John Lewis, who have seen their store portfolio increase from 25 in 2005 to 51 when Cheltenham opens later this year, with a perspective of challenges currently facing traditional big box anchor retailing on the High Street

Gary Lewis – Managing Director Moorgarth – a developer willing to invest in the High Street and our client for a pop up retail concept in Reading and for the recent overhaul of Market Place Bolton

Jessie Lea - Currently Senior Programme Manager – Catford Town Centre Regeneration but soon to take up a new role at LB Enfield, due to start in August as Head of Strategic Property Services  ‘a local authority property and regeneration perspective’

Alex O Kane – Retail Designer, currently working with us on creative solutions for Retail Parks going forward

Preston Benson – Really Local Group. Preston is working on developing creative solutions for redundant High St space. ‘The cinema is the hub around which all can gather and the spokes depend upon the creative community in which we sit’

We have produiced a short film highlighting some of the key contributions to the discussion which can be summarised below


Poor policy and lazy investment choices has resulted in monocultural town centres dominated by single use classes, often with upper levels kept deliberatley vacant for the ease of portfolio management. The High Street needs to become multifunctional and multicultural


Over the course of the the latter half of the 20th century floorplates became disproportionately enlarged as the High St became a retail warehouse, destroying the traditional urban grain of our town centres. The massive floorplates have now all moved out of town to retail and logistics parks and there is an opportunity to make the town centre slimmer, fitter and better scaled to suit out needs

Small is Beautiful

The internet and social media has liberated the way in which we work. The new businesses are smaller and nimbler and are well positioned to take up High St space vacated by the old.

Authentic Environments

Our desire for the authentic and crafted, for heritage and stories is well satisfied by the buildings of the High St, many of which have already experienced many changes over centuries

Level the Playing Field

The High Street has been hammered by the recent hike in business rates whilst the new web based retailers get off lightly - there is an urgent need to redress the balance and create a new form of taxation that recognises the fundamental shift

Innovate Innovate Innovate

The property sector needs to embrace change with creative solutions to include residential, cultural, workspace and social uses. Planning policy needs to loosen to allow much more flexible land use. Design needs to create design solutions more appropriate to a nimble leaner and creative market place


The High St can recapture its role as the social meeting space for the community it serves and extend its function from daytime place to 24 hour space

North vs South

The problems of post industrial towns of the north are far different from the towns and cities of the south east and the problems in the north cannot easily be solved by creating residential space unless there is an incentive for people to live there


We were joined by members of the public who had taken an interest in the themes which  are very current at the moment and only today saw the publication of the 'Grimsey 2' report suggesting the same remedies of diversification,

high streets must stop relying on retail says expert review

Many thanks to all and we hope to play a small part in improving our town centres and High Streets.

Video Coverage of the event can be found here: LFA 2018 - Zombie High Streets


Tags: Architecture, Wren, regeneration, economy, town centres

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