Residents in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, are taking action into their own hands to reinvigorate their declining town centre by creating the UK’s first community-owned shopping centre.
With beautiful roof ironwork, the arcade in Dewsbury, dates back to 1899 and was a popular shopping destination until 2014. A combination of decreasing footfall, poor management and lack of investment saw the arcade empty out and finally close.
Now, plans are afoot to regenerate the arcade by filling it with independent retailers from the town. Residents have formed The Arcade Dewsbury and intend to launch a community share offer in 2021. The aim is to raise £150,000 for the first year’s lease and operating costs.
Chris Hill is a community property developer and Board Secretary to the community business. He’s also been appointed Project Officer by Kirklees Council with a brief to develop the arcade.
“The plan is to go on to lease or buy more empty shops. This is how small towns can come back again; how they can build back from the pandemic, and the years of decline prior to that. You’ve got to get in that community energy that can produce interesting stuff in town centres.”
Chris and his colleagues – a group of entrepreneurs from Dewsbury – have been working hard behind the scenes. Working with the council, they have been business planning and lobbying to secure funding to refurbish the building. The plan is for the council to lease the regenerated space to the co-op once renovations are complete.
The Arcade Dewsbury is awaiting confirmation of preferred bidder status, which will give them the green light to go ahead with the share offer.
Chris is hoping to attract as many local people as possible to invest in the project. He said; “The great thing about a community benefit society is that it keeps money local. It involves local people in controlling it and keeps wealth within a community. We plan to set up project groups that give members responsibility for new activities like pop-up shops, for example.”
Chris has developed other community buildings and knows the benefits it can bring. “On a previous project, a woman with little experience got involved and fabulously grew into the senior manager of the trust. Involving local people to take on responsibility empowers individuals – and towns – to realise their potential.”