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Falmouth before the pandemic

Repair cafes and “20 minute neighbourhoods” should be used to revitalise Cornish high streets

New repair cafes where people can mend and modify clothing and creating “20 minute neighbourhoods” would help to revitalise Cornish high streets, a new report says.

The county should learn from initiatives in the USA, Australia, France and Amsterdam to create vibrant spaces for all, experts have said.

High streets have declined over the past decade because of online shopping, and now the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers from the University of Exeter’s Institute for Cornish Studies have analysed initiatives around the world to discover the support and fresh ideas which could work in Cornwall.

In a new report they say repair cafes, and spaces to share expertise around making, mending, and modifying clothing would create experiences which would tempt people back to high streets.

The study, by Phoebe Lawlor, is part of a project coordinated by Dr Joanie Willett and Professor Clare Saunders.

It says initiatives such as the US Main Street Programme – where older buildings are revitalised, 20 Minute Neighbourhoods in Australia – where everything people use to live and work is within easy distance, and repair cafes in Amsterdam and France offer learning opportunities for Cornish high streets.

The report says repair cafes would be popular because of the growing awareness of environmental issues, and popularity of buying locally-produced products. Already popular abroad they are now being welcomed in Cornwall with the launching of the ‘Repair Café network’.

Researchers, who examined studies produced about boosting high streets, found creating experiences in the spaces was key, as well as involving the public in their development.

Ms Lawlor said: “High streets are vibrant places when they have a social element, where they are locations with purpose, enjoyment and community spirit. This can be absent from many high streets at the moment.

“As popular as internet shopping is, the thrill of seeing a beautiful dress in a shop window and being able to touch the fabric and try before you buy or admiring a piece of art in a gallery and browse a book shop for the perfect book are moments that can never be replaced online.

“The high street has to evolve and elevate itself into something more than the same few shops, the next step is paramount. Retailers now have centre stage to change the future of real-life shopping by stepping up, buying responsibly, stimulating and engaging customers with exciting and inviting window displays and good merchandising whilst having a warm welcome and offering good customer service making it a retail experience.

“Consumers must remain the priority, and without an effective plan there is a risk high streets will remain or become desolate and lifeless. Shopping is no longer the way to sustain a high street, there now has to be more offered to customers.”

Date: 14 December 2021

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