George Young

Senior Media Relations Officer

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20 February 2019

Most people favour putting empty shops to community or charity use to keep high streets vibrant until a permanent store can open, according to new research.

A survey commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation, found seven in 10 people in the UK favoured handing empty high street sites to community groups until a permanent use can be found.

Schemes such as these have been successful before. In South London, Pop Brixton is a partnership between locals and Lambeth Council that runs until 2020, transforming a disused plot of land into a space for local businesses to set up shop and share ideas. All members invest time into charitable and community projects such as kids’ art classes and horticulture training. Last year, Harrods also opened a pop-up charity shop for a month in aid of NSPCC, whilst M Restaurants launched a pop-up dining event at their Victoria branch that donated 100% of the profits to the charity Not For Sale. 

Empty high street shop

The polling comes just days after a report by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard that revealed one in 10 high street shops in the UK are currently empty, with that figure rising to one in eight in Scotland. 78% of people want empty high street shops to be filled as soon as possible, rising to 87% of those aged 65+, with older people conventionally more reliant on their local high street than younger generations.

The Charities Aid Foundation’s research highlights a trend that has been concerning British people for a decade. In 2009 the Local Government Association was warning that UK high streets were rapidly transforming into “ghost towns” as a result of the recession, and requested new powers to put empty shops to better use for community projects such as libraries, youth clubs and training centres. Ten years on, many people remain worried about their local high streets.

In addition the polling reveals that 37% of Brits aged 16 and above regularly shop in their local charity shop, equivalent to over 20 million people; there are believed to be over 11,000 charity shops in the UK. 62% of those polled believe charity shops provide a valuable service on their local high street, rising to 66% of women.

Commenting on the findings, Susan Pinkney, Head of Research at the Charities Aid Foundation adds:

“Charity shops have thrived in the UK for generations, which is no great surprise considering just how supportive most people are of charities in this country. It’s amazing to see that over 20 million British people regularly pop to a charity shop, and clearly there is an appetite to see empty shops used in a way that supports the local community.

“Everyone wants to see our high streets thrive, and charity and community shops can be a great way to offer a valuable service while keeping our town centres bustling with activity.”

Notes to editors

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,176 adults aged 16+. Fieldwork was undertaken online between 18th – 28th January 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+).

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