Historic England at our Future High Streets event this October
Above: Sabrina, the puppet representing the spirit of the River Severn at the H! Street Fest in Gloucester (Image from Historic England)
Future Cities Forum is delighted that Owain Lloyd-James, Head of Places Strategy at Historic England will be speaking at our 'Future of High Streets' event in October.
Owain is the strategic lead for the High Streets Heritage Action Zones programme, the £95m fund aimed at regenerating historic high streets in England. He is also responsible for implementing Historic England’s Places Strategy. He started his professional life as an archaeologist. After which he worked for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working largely on policy related to portable cultural property. Since joining English Heritage (now Historic England) in 2007, he has been responsible for the co-ordination and development of work with local government and national infrastructure, and undertaking research looking at the impact of development on the historic environment.
High streets up and down the UK have experienced decline since the advent of online shopping and the ravages of the pandemic. However, Historic England describing the decline of the British high street says it is a more nuanced picture:
'While the failure of a number of significant high street brands has been well reported, not every enterprise is seeing the same level of decline. The success of some stores, in particular those whose activities that cannot be replicated online (barbers, independent coffee shops, etc.) suggest grounds for optimism for those high streets that are able to offer what is being called ‘experiential retail’. This refers to a place providing more than just a location for buying and selling goods.
'As high streets become more about the ‘experience’ and less about simply buying and selling, the quality of the environment and its contribution to that ‘experience’ becomes more important.'
Bringing cultural activities and festivals to the high street, town and city centre, has been a key move to attract shoppers and visitors back following the retail decline. This September, Woolwich town centre in south east London will see Hi! Street Fest.
Historic England describes what will happen and its significance:
'Featuring 400 flags, 300 dancers, over half a mile of knitted bunting and one giant fox called Farrah, Hi! Street Fest has been taking high streets across England by storm this summer. Now, Farrah and Hi! Street Fest returns to Woolwich, Farrah’s hometown, for a spectacular finale event featuring every puppet Farrah has met on her journey from Lowestoft, to Gosport, to Stalybridge.
'In Woolwich, local communities will come together to represent the culture of Woolwich high street. Audiences can expect to see performances from local dancers, samba drummers, flag bearers, artists and community groups. Local people will carry lanterns inspired by the high street that have been created with the community and local schools over the summer. The streets will be filled with music and dance by a newly developed samba troupe, curated by local organisation Taru Arts. Farrah will parade through Woolwich meeting the puppets from each Hi! Street Fest at different locations ending in a final meet up of all the puppets for a spectacular performance including music, spoken word, dance and pyrotechnics in General Gordon Square.
'Each puppet joining the procession represents and celebrates the individuality of their own high street and has already welcomed Farrah to their towns to learn about the heritage of each location. This will be the only opportunity for the public to see all six puppets and Farrah at one event.
'Free Which Woolwich Stories tours will take place throughout the afternoon. Curated by Emergency Exit Arts and local artists as part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone, local tour guides showcase the art, community and culture of Woolwich through a cultural trail lasting around 1 hour.'
Below: Beresford Square, Woolwich with market stalls pre-pandemic - adjacent to the High Street and the Royal Arsenal beyond