Major funding secured to revitalise Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Reading & Leominster high streets

Photo shows: Gloucester will be one of the South West's High Street Heritage Action Zones © Steve Bennett (stevage)
Gloucester high street

68 historic high streets across England have been offered government funding to give them a new lease of life and help them recover from declining footfall and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

High streets across the region which have secured funding include Gloucester which will receive £1,905,000, Reading which won £806,500, Leominster in Herefordshire which secured £1,800,000 and Tewkesbury, £1,478,000.

The £95 million government-funded High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) programme, which is delivered by Historic England, will unlock the potential of these high streets, fuelling economic, social and cultural recovery. The lead partners for the schemes (mostly local authorities) are working with Historic England to develop and deliver schemes that will transform and restore disused and dilapidated buildings into new homes, shops, work places and community spaces, restoring local historic character and improving public realm.

Historic England has already seen the difference that HSHAZ funding can make thanks to the Coventry demonstrator scheme launched in 2019. The Coventry HSHAZ, which was awarded £2 million funding, centred on revitalising the historic retail area known as The Burges. Some 21 buildings are subject to restoration and improvements works, alongside work to restore the public realm. So far, many of the buildings have had roof repairs, windows replaced and six shop fronts have been restored to their former glory. The work to complete the rest of the transformation is on track to finish at the end of November.

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative is funded with £40 million from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund and £52 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Street Fund. A further £3 million will be provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support a cultural programme.

Historic buildings on our high streets give great character to local towns and cities, making each distinctive and appealing to people. Up to 48% of the nation’s retail stock was built before 1919 and the loss of business occupiers in these historic buildings is placing them at risk and undermining the character, local identity and viability of the high street.

On top of this £95 million, the government’s unprecedented £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund will help to tackle the impact the pandemic has had on our most loved arts organisations and heritage sites and breathe new life into historic high streets across the country.

The HSHAZ scheme includes £7.4 million to fund four years of cultural activities to engage communities with their local high streets, and celebrate the role and importance of these historic areas as hubs of the community. The Cultural Programme is led by Historic England, in partnership with The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England.

The money will fund two arms of the programme, the first is grants distributed through cultural consortia set up by Local Authority partners. These consortia will work with artists and creative organisations local to the high streets to develop their ideas and deliver activity.

The second part of the programme is a series of national cultural commissions. Historic England is asking creatives to respond to briefs that include capturing the everyday spirit of high streets, and connecting high streets across the country; this will include a large-scale outdoor arts celebration of the high street and a four year photography commission to document the changing face of the high street. Further commissions will be announced in each year of the cultural programme.

The cultural programme has already facilitated pilot grants to produce work that will be revealed in the run-up to the crucial Christmas shopping season on local high streets. From art exhibitions in empty shop windows to street art trails bringing the high street back to life, poetry penned by local people appearing on pavements to residents voicing animations, they give a flavour of what high streets can expect over the next four years’ of the cultural programme.