Rejuvenating Our High Streets

How flexible workspaces can contribute to a reimagined urban environment with the high street at its heart

“Once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow,” wrote retail guru Mary Portas in a 2011 report on the decline of the high street.

While the challenges our high streets face now are very different to what they were over a decade ago, the essence of Portas’ idea still stands.

Amid heightened energy bills, staff shortages, and changing consumer behaviours, high street companies are facing turmoil. More than nine out of ten retailers believe the high street is suffering, according to 2022 research from wholesale marketplace Ankorstore.

But amid such uncertainty comes a new opportunity for the high street—an opportunity to “create social capital at the heart of communities” and build itself anew, specifically adapted to the changing needs of people in a new world.

As central hubs where like-minded people come together, flexible workspaces play a key role in developing a new direction for our high streets, helping to build community, connecting users with local services, and providing a space for new businesses to grow and develop.

The future of the high street?

The ‘15-minute City’ is a concept for an urban area in which citizens can access their daily necessities by foot or by bike within 15 minutes. Developed by French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno to create more sustainable human-centric urban environments, the award-winning idea imagines decentralised cities in which people can access both their home and workplace in either a short walk or cycle. 

The concept, which has already been used by urban planners in cities like Paris, Melbourne, and Buenos Aires, helps us to imagine a world in which the local high street becomes the hub of this ‘15-minute city,’ where people can access flexible working spaces that are close to schools, clubs, and their children’s childcare. And that have shops, gyms, restaurants and bars on their doorstep. 

The importance of keeping home and work close to local amenities is reflected in what our members tell us when they’re at our flexible workspaces. 

“We love the location of HomeWork in Southfields, with instant access to everything on the high street.”

Andy Wood, Strategy Director at Nevado

“Both my husband and I flexi-work out of HomeWork Southfields. It has honestly, changed our lives. We are both freelancers and having a flexible and comfortable working environment so close to our house has been invaluable. It’s meant we can work in peace and quiet in a professional setting but still be home in 5 minutes should we need to.”

Ali Haddon Cave

Returning to the high street: keeping it local

The popularity of buying locally surged during the pandemic, when neighbourhood stores were boosted by the shift to working from home and strengthened interest in supporting businesses that kept communities going in hard times. According to research from Barclaycard, nearly two-thirds of UK consumers chose to buy closer to home in 2020, leading to a 63% rise in spending at specialist food and drink stores such as butchers, bakeries and greengrocers in early 2021.

This trend has survived the end of lockdowns. The research by Ankorstor found two-thirds of retailers said customers are still keen to shop within their home areas.

As demand for flexible workspace also remains high, with remote and hybrid working models looking set to continue, all of this offers a promising window of opportunity for high streets outside of major city centres. 

Through connections with nearby businesses and by encouraging people to shop locally, flexible workspaces can play an active role in empowering people to contribute to the rejuvenation of high streets in boroughs and smaller towns.

At HomeWork, we are proud to have partnered with local businesses to offer reciprocal discounts; these include organisations within the healthcare, leisure and fitness sectors. In fact, businesses like The Font grew in and out of HomeWork and show how flexible workspaces provide small and new businesses with the space to grow and to thrive. Managing Director of The Font Joey Powis explains:

“Ultimately, The Font Borough will be the most obvious & tangible outcome for us! Homework gave me the focused space to plan our move to a multi-site leisure operator, and all that entails. The Font Borough went from inception to launch during our first 12 months at Homework. Plus those in the pipeline!”

In turn, the success of local business proves invaluable in the rejuvenation of our high streets. The services and spaces created bring not only economic growth and opportunity, but inject a sense of identity and character amongst communities, encouraging them to flourish and reach their own potential.

Rebuilding communities

Beyond the commercial aspect, keeping life local connects residents and contributes to the building of communities.

By working with local councils, educational organisations, and community networks, high street workspaces can become hubs of development and opportunity for their members and for local people in need of employment. We work very closely with the local business improvement districts, often making introductions and referrals to people within the HomeWork network to help with challenges a business owner may be facing.

And by providing a physical environment where people come together, flexible workspaces like HomeWork offer people a space to connect. Our networking events or breakout spaces offer members the opportunity to make new connections, whether it’s in business or friendship. We’ve previously hosted local freelancers and founders, coaches and mentors, plus a myriad of marketing, design and professional services experts – these sessions provide space for local businesses to ask for help, and even investment. And our meeting spaces allow members to meet with clients, contacts, or colleagues face to face in a comfortable and relaxed environment.

We regularly run events for members to meet and connect. Join us for our monthly masterclasses and networking events to meet like minded people. And look out for special events like our coffee tasting with local roasters PLOT

Our members are certainly seeing the benefits of combining the benefits of flexible working with a space to socialise and connect.

“I like that there is such diversity at HomeWork – nationalities, professions, companies, ages. I now know a whole new set of local people, and so I feel much more part of my area now. The HomeWork team are also great – they have been really open to ideas, and I have enjoyed collaborating with them to set up the networking events.”

Amy, AFWhite Consulting

Keen to find your new favourite (high street) space to get things done? Get in touch with the HomeWork team to arrange a tour or book a desk. We look forward to welcoming you!