What's the future of the high street?

The launch of Bill Grimsey's latest review

Seekology founder Rebecca writes: Earlier this week I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Bill Grimsey’s latest report on “How independent Retail, Hospitality and Services Businesses have adapted to survive the pandemic” – aptly titled “Against All Odds”, hosted by innovative landlord Sook. Seekology is featured within the report as an example of an independent retailer that has successfully pivoted during the pandemic.

Seekology at Sook on Oxford Street

For those of you who don’t know Bill, he is a former retail CEO who now dedicates his time to supporting and improving high streets, and over the last eight years he has written four reports recommending what we collectively need to do. He’s been banging on (in a good, and much-needed way!) for years about issues such as business rates, parking and planning which are so critical to the sector’s success.

In Bill’s own words, actions on these recommendations have been slow to date: “change has been happening… in baby steps”. But the devastating impact of Covid has created the burning platform that has influenced the theme of his new review, which focuses on the independent sector – for hospitality and services as well as independent retailers like Seekology, which at the time of writing supports independent beauty + wellbeing brands through just one store.

The devastating impact of Covid on independent retail

Bill talked passionately about the 50,000 small retail businesses that are currently struggling to survive – many of which would be viable in normal times, but are currently struggling under a collective £1.7bn of debt.

A shop that has closed

I couldn’t agree more that these businesses need to be supported – both through direct investment, grants and loans, but also through support for high streets as a whole. Bill’s view that some towns will be fully “left behind” is sobering, not just for the impact on retail but also for the effects on the fabric of society within those areas. The solution is not just about retail, with Bill explaining that that mixed use town centres, with spaces for “health, education, culture, housing, leisure, arts and crafts” will be the future.

What's the solution to fix our high streets?

Bill makes a number of recommendations and – whilst he and I might respectfully disagree at the margins on some of his thoughts on the beauty / salon sector – I wholeheartedly support all his recommendations. The future of our high streets really is at risk; I hope the Government are humble and forward-thinking enough to listen this time.

You can read Bill’s full report here.

Thanks to Emma and the team at Enterprise Nation for introducing Seekology to Bill!