I’ve got to be honest and say l see more hope for a retail recovery in the ‘Under Offer’ signs on the windows of the now vacant Gap store at the town end of Milsom Street – but let’s give some credit to Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Vacant Units Action Project.
It’s a venture setting out to find new uses for empty retail units as part of a programme of support to help our high streets’ recovery.
Local charity Share and Repair, which aims to help local people save money and the planet by reducing waste and repairing and reusing items, is opening a new shop at 3 York Buildings on George Street on Wednesday 11 August. The shop will house the charity’s ‘library of things’, carry out repairs and host ‘how-to’ workshops.
Lorna Montgomery, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Share and Repair, said: “This is such an amazing space and location for us to attract people in and encourage practical action to improve our environment. Keeping items in use for longer and reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfill is essential to reducing our carbon emissions. At the same time, we want people to rethink what and how they buy; we all own too much and often only use many things once or twice a year. Our Library of Things has over 400 items to borrow and we’re looking forward to working with local people to ‘Mend It, Don’t End It and Borrow don’t Buy’.”
Fringe Arts Bath and Bath Fringe have also recently taken over 5 Broad Street. Renamed ‘This is not a Shop’, the former retail unit is now hosting events, performances and art exhibitions Wednesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 5pm, until 27 August.
Steve Henwood, Fringe Co-Director said: “Contemporary arts activity is an excellent antidote to the much-feared ‘decline of the High Street’. A city and community like Bath is well placed to run an endless creative stream of modern arts experiences at the drop of a shutter: all it needs is a little support and the artistic imagination, and suddenly we have a phenomenon which is good for everyone.”
Councillor Richard Samuel, deputy Leader and cabinet member for Economic Development & Resources, said: “I’m delighted to see that the Vacant Units Action Project is going from strength to strength and continuing to make excellent use of more empty spaces in the city. It’s helping to make our city more vibrant and attract footfall, improving our public spaces.”
The project forms part of the council’s High Streets Renewal programme and was awarded £500,000 from the West of England Combined Authority’s Recovery Fund. Alongside this, further match funding and in-kind support has been provided by the council and Bath BID.
West of England Mayor Dan Norris said: “I’m proud that the Combined Authority that I lead is backing Bath so that people can enjoy pop-up art galleries and make use of recycling and repair services in buildings that would otherwise be empty. We are a region of innovation and creativity and this is a brilliant example of Bath people coming together to make sure our city continues to be an amazing place to shop and visit. Making sure our city centres are vibrant and safe is really important to me and our local communities.”
Other vacant units across the city have been put to a variety of uses from the rapid Covid-19 testing centre at 3 Burton Street to the High Street Hub in Cheap Street which provides support and advice to businesses.
Earlier this summer, ‘In the Meanwhile’ brought art exhibitions and theatre performances to 17/18 Milsom Street and Milsom Place and a wide range of entertainment, events and activities for all the family are continuing throughout the summer with Summer Sundays.