In historical terms the concept of the High Street that we know today is a Victorian development. Some of the best known names that are the cornerstones of the commercial centres of towns and cities across the country trace their roots back to the 19th century like M&S, the Co-op and Sainsburys. Over the past 150 years there have been many changes, but the economic down turn of 2008 that has affected the UK has exposed significant cracks in the previously successful model.
This year I have been to quite a number of high streets in the South of England including Slough, Newbury, Bath, Leamington Spa and Warwick all of which seemed to be thriving. Last week I went to Henley in Arden where the one mile long High Street is a conservation area. Clearly not on the scale of the other towns it does offer some interesting lessons:
It has free car parking both on and off street.
There is both a Co-op and a One Stop close to each other, but the majority of the shops are independently owned.
The high street is enhanced by the delightfully coordinated floral displays.
It has an award winning restaurant and an award winning pub. It was a very hot day when I visited so the busiest place was Henley Ice Cream Parlour who offer a spectacular range of 50 different flavours.
Without doubt the purpose of high streets will continue to change, but the key lesson from Henley in Arden is that to stay relevant the Council, Businesses and community have to deliver a commercial centre offering both retail and entertainment in an attractive environment.