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31st March 2021

Last Chance to Register: Future of our High Streets

The UK High Street: Redefining the Future of Retail & Planning for Life after Lockdown

Thursday, April 1st 2021


Key Speakers Include:

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee

Clare Bailey, “The Retail Champion” and High Street Expert

Sophia de Sousa, Chief Executive of The Glass-House Community Led Design

Polly Barnfield OBE, CEO of Maybe* Tech

Esther Morrison, Place Maker and Food Consultant


Michelle Sacks, Joint Deputy Chief Executive (Place) at East Lindsey District Council

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK high street suffered its worst year in over a quarter of a century. Nearly 180,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK alone, and the Centre for Retail Research has predicted that up to 200,000 more will be at risk in 2021. The UK has been hit particularly hard due to its heavy reliance on consumer spending, with 13% of its GDP resulting from recreation and culture, a higher share than any other G7 country. However, the exceptional circumstances brought on by the pandemic have only exacerbated a decline in high street shopping, intensifying the existing trend towards online retail, particularly in the case of clothing outlets. As a result, the UK has seen major retailers like Topshop sliding into insolvency, Debenhams, whose roots can be traced back to 1778, disappearing from the UK high street, and smaller outlets losing out to fast fashion online retailers like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing.

As the UK looks towards the end of the national lockdown, it will be vital to consider how the high street, as a central aspect of our national economic and cultural infrastructure, will be supported and protected. Shops have already spent large sums of money making their premises Covid-secure, thereby increasing costs for a retail industry already struggling with a lack of footfall. Whilst the Chancellor’s furlough scheme addresses the wider issue of unemployment, the government’s emergency business support measures have provided relief in the form of suspended business rates for the retail industry and an investment of £830 million from the Future High Streets Fund into 72 areas across England.

However, bodies such as the British Retail Consortium have called for the government to extend the business rates holiday beyond April, especially with the furlough scheme being set to finish at the end of April. If the government is to avoid further retail closure and job losses, they need to act now to further support the high street. The government is expected to reveal their exit strategy towards the end of February, but the Confederation of British Industry has emphasised the need for government to work with businesses as restrictions are relaxed, enabling them to identify and understand the conditions and adequately prepare for the challenges which lay ahead.

This symposium will therefore provide an invaluable opportunity for the relevant parties to assess the extent of these challenges and devise methods for reducing and resolving the harmful impacts of a socially distanced retail sector. If the high street is to be maintained, it is important to identify potential areas of growth and ways in which the retail sector might innovate and prioritise effectively.


  • Build strong partnerhips with various stakeholders to ensure the sector remains competitive and sustainable beyond 2021
  • Identify strategies for ensuring a coordinated recovery and a smooth transition into the reopening of high street stores
  • Discuss strategies for revitalising local high streets and town centres and regaining footfall in a socially distanced retail sector
  • Consider ways to prevent further shop closures and job losses in the retail sector
  • Analyse the impact of the growing online retail sector and develop a ‘hybrid’ sales strategy
  • Evaluate the role of high streets as a part of our national infrastructure in a post-Covid world
  • Discuss the extent to which changing attitudes to clothing and fast fashion are impacting the maintenance of local high streets and the importance of shopping habits
  • Explore opportunities for redesigning the UK high street so as to maximise the consumer experience, particularly with regard to accessibility measures
  • Discuss and share ideas for involving parties such as local authorities, community groups, and residents, in future plans for local high streets and town centres
  • Evaluate new technologies, innovations and ideas to deliver good quality of service without needing high levels of investment

To register for the briefing, please click here.

Press release from Public Policy Exchange

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Tel: 020 3137 8630