Several high street retail units are to undergo a major revamp across England and Wales, with Homebase, River Island and William Hill branches having been converted into climate emergency centres (CEC).
The community hubs are intended to benefit both “people and planet”, after the pandemic left stores dormant and forced the public to alter their shopping habits. Owners of empty stores have been given a lifeline by councils across the country, and can reduce their business rates payments by up to 100% through leasing their premises for community benefit.
These not-for-profit organisations, or climate emergency centres, will offer activities that combine the climate crisis and the community. People can expect a diverse range of ventures, including art exhibitions, exercise classes and sustainable living workshops, as well as vegan cafes and bike repairs.
With variety at its core, several centres are up and running and have already helped communities, having found ways to remain open during the pandemic.
Pete Phoenix and Ruth Allen, two organisers of the CECs, are encouraging as many community groups as possible to set up centres to revitalise declining high streets, helping people and the planet.
Phoenix said: “In terms of the climate emergency the whole world is on fire. As well as trying to protect the planet, people are desperate for community and connection after the year we’ve had. These centres bring together the energy of younger people and the wisdom of the elders.”
Bob Littlewood, the Labour councillor for the Seven Kings ward in London, has welcomed the scheme with open arms. A CEC is located in a repurposed Homebase in the district.
“This is a way of developing community cohesion and giving the community a voice. I think it’s bread from heaven,” Littlewood said.
The encouraging response from the individuals involved suggests that the project will be successful, as it is not only critical for the future of the climate, but also offers a pathway to recovery for UK high streets.