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Funding secured for historic high street recovery

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From Redruth to Gloucester, 10 historic high streets across the South West 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.

The £95m 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.

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.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "High streets sit at the heart of our communities and every part of the country deserves to have one they can be proud of. This fund will help breathe new life into high streets in towns and cities across the country - restoring them to their full glory so that they are beautiful places for people to shop, work and enjoy."

High Streets Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP said: “Our high streets are the beating heart of our communities and, now more than ever, have a crucial role to play in helping our towns and cities to recover from the pandemic.

“This new funding will help to transform and restore historic buildings, creating new homes, shops and community spaces, and reinvigorating local high streets up and down the country.”

It is not just the economic future and commercial confidence of the High Streets that is at stake. They have a long history of being the heart of places where local people meet, work, shop and feel part of something bigger.

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.

Rebecca Barrett, regional director at Historic England in the South West, said: "Whether it's a medieval market town, or a post-war city centre, every high street in England has a distinctive history that can be harnessed to help it achieve a prosperous future.

"Investing in heritage delivers good results for people – it means looking after and celebrating the places at the heart of our communities, and the buildings and public spaces which define their character. This investment for our Historic High Streets Action Zone scheme will unlock the potential of these precious high streets and help them thrive again."

The High Streets that have been selected in the South West are:

Poole - £625,000
Gloucester - £1,905,000
Tewkesbury - £1,478,000
Midsomer Norton - £793,000
Keynsham - £1,100,000
Chard - £1,000,000
Weston-super-Mare - £1,100,000
Cullompton - £1,103,314
Plymouth - £1,994,638
Redruth - £1,689,063

Total - £12,788,015

South Somerset District Council applied for a grant of £1m to be match funded and were recently advised by Historic England that the full amount requested would be awarded. This means that approximately £2m will be invested in and around Fore Street over a four year period.

Chard is a historic market town in rural South Somerset and was an important wool, weaving and lace-making centre. High Street and Fore Street are the focus of the HSHAZ, rich in historic character with over 120 listed buildings. Whilst the town centre is architecturally attractive, it is lack-lustre not a pedestrian-friendly zone, with heavy traffic, poor pavements and a general lack of well-signposted routes to help people find their way around. The HS HAZ will fund the repair of a number of historic buildings including the grade I listed Town Hall and refurbish some distinctive shopfronts, providing local training opportunities in construction craft skills. The streetscape will be improved to be safer and more attractive to shoppers and visitors.

After news broke of the funding earlier in the year, Councillor Jason Baker, portfolio holder for the Chard Regeneration Scheme and Chairman of Area West Committee, said: “Everyone on the Chard Regeneration Board are thrilled to receive the full £1 million grant that we requested from Historic England. With the match funding as well, investing approximately £2 million in the high street over the next four years will make a huge difference in what we can do to improve the area and bring footfall to the town centre of Chard.”

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