Are young entrepreneurs the answer to Britain's high street woes?

posted on 31/07/2013 13:59:17 by Dan O'Sullivan

With Britain's high streets struggling, we look at the positive efforts of social enterprise somewhereto_ and other attempts to rejuvenate the sector.

Making the high street relevant to young people is key to its future, suggests social enterprise somewhereto_

It is well documented that independent retailers are struggling to cement their presence on Britain's high streets - and new research suggests things are not going to improve any time soon.

The Centre for Retail Research has predicted that store numbers will fall by 22% between now and 2018. The fear is that there is no way to reverse the trend - and if the slide continues, where will it end?

So, as price-led consumers increasingly buy online and independent shops suffer as a result, a social enterprise called somewhereto_ has suggested a possible answer: to encourage young entrepreneurs to rejuvenate the industry.

Young and not so dumb?

The motivation behind the initiative is the belief that the younger generation can be reawakened to the potential of the high street, as a recent survey conducted by the organisation found 26% of young people feel stores are not relevant and don't offer enough variety. A further 18% said they never even bother to visit their local high street.

The motivation behind somewhereto_'s initiative is the belief that the younger generation can be reawakened to the potential of the high street - their recent survey found 26% of young people feel stores are not relevant

Now, in an attempt to engage youngsters and attract them to the sector, somewhereto_ is helping budding entrepreneurs secure disused shops where they can build their own businesses.

Relying on the creativity and ambition of young retailers, the hope is that their zeal will provide high streets with a fresh appeal. The strategy has support from entrepreneur and Dragons' Den investor Theo Paphitis, who recently told The Guardian: "Young people are the entrepreneurs of the future and we should be looking to them as one of our sources of innovation for the high streets of tomorrow."

Traffic and trade

While getting youngsters interested in retail and giving them the chance to have a positive impact is a credible cause, it's going to take more than a couple of quirky stores to resurrect the nation's high streets.

Parking - and making shops more accessible to shoppers - continues to be a burning issue. The latest suggestion being mooted is to allow motorists to park on double yellow lines - free of charge - for a period of 15 minutes while they nip into a store.

The idea was reportedly floated by communities secretary Eric Pickles, with a source close to the MP telling The Telegraph that he believes such a move could bring people back to high streets.

"If people are worried about paying a fortune in fines, it will make them more likely to shop online or go to out-of-town shopping centres," the source said. "For too long, parking has been a revenue raiser. It is time to end that."

That's all very well, but there are legitimate concerns that the plan is flawed. Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker played down the proposals, explaining to The Guardian: "The idea of actually having cars parked for a very long period of time on a double yellow line actually undermines the purposes of the yellow line and I'm advised it's unworkable."

If indecision and contrasting opinions in government stand in the way of definitive changes that could stimulate high street trade, the activity of social enterprises and organisations like somewhereto_ will become increasingly important.

Image credit: Alan Stanton

Dan O'Sullivan

Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at dan.osullivan@makeitcheaper.com

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