FINDING ways to revitalise the high street has tested everyone from planning experts to television’s “queen of shops” Mary Portas. Now a group of young people think they may have the solution.
A pop-up shop competition this month in Dunfermline will see 12 teams unveil their ideas on how to lure shoppers back to struggling town centres.
The winner of the TestTown festival – dubbed the “X Factor for towns” – will receive a £10,000 cash prize to invest in their business. The entrants, including five teams from Scotland, will take over vacant town centre space and trade with real consumers during the three-day event.
The competition, run by the Carnegie UK Trust, received more than 550 entries from all over the UK from people aged between 16 and 30 with plans for empty shops.
These include a bespoke tailor, a French-style street café serving crêpes, and a fitness outlet where you can do a workout, shower and buy a balanced meal to take away in under 30 minutes. The finalists were selected by a team of entrepreneur judges led by Kwik-Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer.
Falkirk-based Jenna Fairgreave, 25, who teamed up with Emma Pauley, 26, has taken a craft-sale approach for her project entitled Back on the High Street.
The shop will rent out 100 shelves to 100 different crafters at £1 a shelf to promote and sell low-cost handmade goods.
Mother-of-two factory worker Fairgreave discovered the competition in an advert in a local newspaper. She pledged to establish the shop in Dunfermline if her project wins.
She said: “The modern-day high street has lost the connection between producer and consumer. I want to see it back.
“One exclusive handmade marketplace website has reported a 526 per cent sale increase over the last three years.
“The majority of these handcrafted creations are on the internet and, with a staggering 24 per cent of Scottish adults who do not currently use the internet, I believe there is scope to bring handmade ‘back on the high street’.”
Another entrant is Functional Fitness Express, the brainchild of personal trainer Graham McCann.
He decided to launch an “express” model of his business idea in Dunfermline as he made plans to launch a Functional Fitness workout outlet and eaterie in Dundee.
A friend alerted him to the contest and he filled in an application on the last day it was open to entrants. “I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ If we win, the £10,000 prize would be half of the cost we would need to invest in gym equipment. It is a big deal for us. It means we could borrow less from the banks and turn a profit sooner,” he said.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is supporting the event. Gordon Merrylees, regional managing director, business banking for RBS and a TestTown judge, said: “These times are challenging for young entrepreneurs, as they seek to secure employment and begin careers in a climate of austerity. Young people are key to reinventing the British high street and we are pleased to get behind this new generation of innovators, supporting them to explore fresh ideas and build on their brilliant ideas.
“The event is sure to bring a boost to Dunfermline’s existing town centre businesses, many of whom have already offered support to the project.”
Jim Metcalfe, practice and development manager at Carnegie UK Trust, believes that the TestTown project could be replicated by local authorities across the UK.
He said: “The TestTown finals is Britain’s first ‘X Factor for towns’, and we are delighted to be bringing it to Dunfermline this year.
“Town centres need to adapt to and capture a new audience. To do that they need to appeal to next-generation consumers – people increasingly more familiar with online shopping and social media than markets and high streets.
“Young entrepreneurs are just the right sort of catalyst to reconnect town centre usage with the consumer market.”