In the same week that the “Portas Pilots” were announced to revitalise our local high streets, shoppers in Leeds were taken by surprise as more than 50 older people gathered in the Victoria Quarter of the city to dance to T-Rex ‘We Love to Boogie’.
A city for all ages
They were there taking part in a ‘flash dance’ – inspired by ‘flash-mob’ campaigns where a group of people suddenly start an unannounced coordinated action in a public place to get their message heard. It was organised by Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) to raise awareness of their campaign to make Leeds ‘a city for all ages’.
Frustrated by the promotion of Leeds as a city for young people, with a heavy focus on nightlife and clubbing, they wanted to highlight the common needs of older and younger people. Things like better public transport, public toilets and seating that make it easier to get into and around the place. Making the city a destination for everyone; a lesson that all high streets should take on board.
The flash dance grabbed the attention of passing shoppers, many stopping to record videos and take pictures on their phone and to find out why they were dancing. As a result of the event, the Forum has initiated discussions with the local retail association and the local council.
A flash dance on every high street
The design of many town centres and shops currently do not take older people’s needs into account. Will we have to see flash dances on every high street before they realise they are missing out on the spending power of older consumers?
It seems to me that that the Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas project to “halt this decline in the high street and create town centres that we can all be proud of” is a perfect opportunity to make our high streets age-friendly. (More detail in our response to the Portas Review on our earlier post on the topic)
Mary Portas completed an independent review of the future of our high streets, making 28 recommendations aimed at “getting the heart back into our high streets”. The government has backed her approach, announcing £1.2 million for 12 high streets to pilot her ideas.
On the face of it the 12 high streets that were announced do not appear to have made older peoples’ needs a priority. Nonetheless, many are offering improvements that will bring more people, including those in later life, onto the high street. Dartford for instance will be opening up central spaces for use by classes and clubs and Newbiggen by the Sea will be improving local transport.
The buzz around these pilots gives older people a chance to make their pitch and suggest what needs to be improved to get everyone onto the high street.
But this is only happening in 12 places. With over 300 applications there was fierce competition for this relatively small pot of money. This reinforces concern that high streets are not weathering the economic climate well and need more help.
With this in mind perhaps a better relationship and understanding between older people, councils and retail owners could get older people spending on the high street and turn the fate of the great British high street around.