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The future for High Streets and retail - our discussion event this October

London's famous (Lower) Regent Street looking towards Piccadilly Circus - in May 2021 - with new planters and seating designed by BDP for the Crown Estate and Westminster City Council

Future Cities Forum is holding its 'Future of High Streets' event in Knightsbridge this October where we will be discussing the latest developments in retail - including retail parks and shopping centres - and construction of new homes to create thriving districts in Greater London and the wider UK.

We will be asking which retail districts are thriving in London and how other mixed-use developments around the country are being designed for economic and social sustainability. Future Cities Forum has featured the work of BDP at its previous forums in bringing back nature to historic shopping streets such as Regent Street, to create healthier and more attractive environments.

Kensington High Street has lost its once renowned department stores - Barkers, Derry and Toms - and like other high streets has been under pressure from online fashion and retail businesses. The Design Museum has opened nearby attracting thousands of new design-conscious visitors to the High Street, but there is concern about the number of empty shops. While the West End of London has generally bounced back from the pandemic, there is concern from Westminster City Council that some shops are still empty.

Westminster City Council has released news that small businesses are being offered the chance to take over a shop on Oxford Street, rent-free, as part of a new project launched this summer, in partnership with the New West End Company.

Called “Meanwhile On: Oxford Street”, the programme invites applications from innovative, cutting-edge and up-and-coming brands who will offer something exciting and new to one of the world's most iconic shopping streets.

The businesses selected can use this high-profile space to bring their brand’s story to life, for example through new technologies such as virtual or augmented reality, interactive exhibitions and in some cases, by bringing the production process to the customer by installing machines in store, opening visitor’s eyes to how clothes and other materials are made.

Meanwhile On: Oxford Street will activate empty spaces previously taken up by low quality occupiers such as American candy stores. The programme forms part of Westminster City Council’s wider Fairer Economy plan to invest in high streets throughout the borough.

The campaign is aimed at businesses looking to launch their first store or physical space. Selected brands will be given a prime store location for an initial six-month period. These opportunities will be 100% rent-free for brands, with a minimum reduction of business rates of 70%. Stores will either be available for single occupancy or as a themed concept store shared between multiple brands.

Additionally, brands will benefit from store design, mentoring, management and marketing support from independent retail consultants, Someday Studios, and Westminster City Council. This represents an exciting package of support for small businesses seeking the opportunity to trade in London’s West End for the first time.

Although the Meanwhile On: Oxford Street, is a brand-new programme, it builds on pilot schemes which have shown that the model works successfully. A good example is Kitty McEntee, founder of Lab Tonica who was offered a short-term pop up by Westminster City Council in 2021, to sell hand blended botanicals, teas, balms, and aromatherapy gifts on Regent Street. This successful activation and support from the Council allowed Kitty to make important connections with other retailers on Oxford Street and Lab Tonica now has a permanent concession in Selfridges.

Kitty McEntee said: “In 2021 my brand Lab Tonica was selected to be part of a sustainable pop-up program initiated by Westminster City Council, the NWEC and The Crown Estate. As a new start up, this was an incredible experience and helped to fast-track the launch of my brand, providing a multitude of marketing and collaboration opportunities, and delivering much needed revenue for an independent start-up. The initiative breathed new life into the post-Covid high street and I'm proud to have been a part of it.”

Petit Pli makes sustainable children’s clothes that grow with young people – the brand offers a more affordable option for parents as their clothes expand seven sizes, meaning parents need to buy fewer clothes over their child’s lifetime. Petit Plit was also supported by Westminster City Council with a short-term pop up which showcased some of the machinery used in their design process. This vital support from the Council meant the brand has gone onto open their own permanent unit in London and is thriving.

Innovative and up-and-coming small businesses that can offer something unique to customers in terms of products, events, experience, or concept, are encouraged to apply. New opportunities for brands will also continue to roll out over the coming months and years, as units become available. Meanwhile On: Oxford Street is expected to support around 35 brands over three years, with the first store opening autumn 2023.

Contact FUTURE CITIES FORUM to find out more about how you can join this event.

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