A COMPANY run by two 26-year-old women aims to save Scotland’s high streets with a “collaborative” approach to filling empty shops.
We Are Snook, a Glasgow-based service design agency, has piloted a project in Stirling called Start Up Street, which sources business ideas from local residents and finds shops they can use to get them going. Managing director Lauren Currie aims to see similar projects established across other towns and cities across Scotland.
Currie said: “We want to roll it out across every town in Scotland. We have designed a blueprint that enables people to fill empty shops easily with an idea they have. They don’t have to be Alan Sugar or a Michelle Mone to run a business. There are a lot of good ideas, but the question is how do you turn that idea into a reality.”
So far, the project is small and involves a variety of partners, including Architecture and Design Scotland, Stirling Council and Ice Cream Architecture. One shop unit has been filled with a retail outlet, Made In Stirling, which offers locally produced art. The project has secured a further three empty shop units.
Many of the people involved in establishing their ideas in the shops are young people. “It also challenges the whole notion of ‘what is a shop’,” said Currie. “Spaces on the high street are now going to be more focused on people coming in to do stuff. And we need the youth to come design it with us.”
She added that while the landlords of the property don’t get a return in terms of rent, the project provides benefits for them. She argues that it stems further declines affecting property values on otherwise struggling high streets.
“It is about getting the landlords together and saying if you do this it will be better for the town’s economy,” Currie said. “There will be higher footfall and more money changing hands. It might look like a loss at first, but if you dig deeper it makes economic sense.”
Having worked on a series of projects with local authorities, universities and Tayside Police, Currie says the company’s mission this year is to increase its clients in the private sector.
One project that the firm has designed, called The Matter, has been used by local authorities to consult young people. The project works by enlisting 16-24-year-olds to conduct market research among their peers, and they produce a newspaper which is then presented to the client by the youngsters. Currie said the company is in talks to sell the service to an internet retailer.
When she graduated from the University of Dundee with a Masters of Design, Currie wanted to design products – “the next James Dyson,” she said. But she realised the same principles which led to the creation of the market-leading vacuum cleaner could be applied to services provided by organisations from local councils to banks and utilities. She found a business partner, Sarah Drummond, and launched Snook three years ago.
“A lot of it is about idea generation and how you test those ideas with normal members of the public. We call it prototyping. We want to build a prototyping lab inside the Scottish Government, so that any one with a policy can test it – with Lego and bits of paper. That is where the creative process is.
“The utilities sector is crying out for this kind of stuff. They are trying to understand how vulnerable people budget and how they pay their bills. They design websites and leaflets, but they need to be joined up. We are keen to have conversations in the utilities sector and the retail sector to say there is a process to these things.”