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Helping high streets thrive

MA 2022
Community Engagement, High street, Vacancy, Community-led

The vacancy and decline of the high street have brought a series of financial and social problems, and the renewal of the high street is urgent.

Light Up is a community engagement service that aims to break down barriers to local people in high street development and contribute to the achievement of community-led high streets.

An incubator cafe with pop-up space for community-driven businesses helps build community connection and trust, integrates favorable resources, optimizes the entrepreneurial environment and promotes the emergence of local companies, bringing together locals and entrepreneurs to revitalize their high streets.

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Our high streets are declining!

As the beating hearts of local communities, our high streets are declining that with a record 16 per cent of shops across the UK,  unoccupied for longer. Persistent vacancies can contribute to a spiral of economic decline. 
It means less economic activity and less income for local authorities in terms of business rates. In turn, high streets have become less attractive investment opportunities for national brands, and a lot of job opportunities are withdrawn, which compounds this decline and the potential for increased anti-social and criminal behavior. Problems facing high streets are often blamed on a shift to online shopping, a process which has been substantially accelerated by the Covid-19 emergency, but it is deeper with a long history.

Since there will be no "return to normal" for the high streets, it is time to reimagine how high streets work to empower local people to takeover, meet local needs and serve their community.


We focus on local community entrepreneurs

Although various forces are making efforts to develop community-led high streets to solve the problem, there are still several barriers for locals to take part in this process. We focused on local community entrepreneurs who might be from local groups, individuals, community businesses and other organizations like community interest companies. All their businesses are root locally in their respective communities and care about benefit of their local community. After in-depth research, we identified barriers and pain points from them:

  • The high cost of testing and  implementation makes early business creators lack the confidence to start.
  • Building trust with locals  is a long-term process, even when it’s a community-driven business.
  • Locally relevant resources  and support are hard to find and access for the early business creators.


How might we break down the barriers to local people developing businesses on the high streets by providing lower cost, easily accessible resources? How might we attract more locals to get involved in this process and deepen community connection and build local trust, so that more local business can meet real needs and improve their high streets?


Light Up - An incubator cafe with pop up space

Light Up space is divided into three parts: project show, pop up space and idea collection. It is run by full time volunteers and local business coaches as part of a wider support network.

People come to the space for tea and coffee and to socialize, and they can browse community ideas in our ‘Project Show Space’,  which highlights new ideas and opportunities for change. Once browsing, they are encouraged to vote on ideas they like and give feedback.

When getting a drink, they are given voting stickers and a guide to learn more about the local projects.

They can participate by voting for ones they like, Helping the creators gain valuable insights.They can also experience actual business ideas as prototypes, be part of the testing process of different community projects in the live Pop Up Space.

People who are inspired by the various activities in this space can leave their ideas using the IDEA Brochure and Collection Board, and become part of a potential LIGHT UP group. After that, a clear and convenient journey with our help gives early business creators enough motivation and security.


Community-led Resource Integration

Light Up will be initiated and operated by community interest company and set up on the high street. So we will use community crowdfoundings as initial fundings. And our space could be a space that's listed as a community asset by the local council. We will work with resources and people from all walks of life such as Nesta and Bright Idea to support the emergence of community enterprises to provide integrated resources for our creators.

Everyone can be Light Uper! In addition to business creators, local people can also participate in community-led high street networks as witnesses, volunteers, investors and so on, that further reduces the cost of community engagement and attract more local forces.


Service design projects are built on communication and trust, so we are grateful to all the people who trusted us with us in this project, who helped us engage with the community and make this project more relevant to the real world.

We would like to thank our tutor David, experts Nicola and Grace who are dedicated to serving communities, and all the locals from Wood Green, for their support and belief.  We want to pass the belief on to the community through us.‍

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