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Pioneering spirit goes missing up North

Paul Turner-Mitchell

The North of England has a rich and illustrious history of innovation.

From the Industrial Revolution to the first steam locomotive and the birth of the computer, we’ve blazed a trail for others to follow.

Sadly, in retail, I fear our pioneering spirit has failed to keep up with the demands of the present. It’s not just the fact that the scourge of empty shops is touching many great northern heartlands - after all, high streets all across the country are struggling - but it’s the meek acceptance of this malaise that concerns me. We should be drawing on our great creative heritage to imaginatively tackle this problem and embed a culture of creativity in town centres.

I’ve been hugely impressed by the pop-up shop fever sweeping London and the Southeast, and it’s time the North got behind this phenomenon. From Wayne Hemingway’s KiosKiosk to the London College of Fashion’s

Flexible Factory and the enthusiastic spread of pop-up boutiques, this is a movement characterised by boldness and experimentation that is redefining retail. Why this should lose momentum at the Watford Gap puzzles me.

As retailers struggle to grasp complex and ever-changing consumer needs, we need to be much more experimental. The old rules for success have quickly become recipes for failure and, if we’re to understand what shoppers really want, high streets must become a test bed for new ideas.

Pop-up shops are no panacea but they can be the first step to healthier, more diverse high streets. With Tower Hamlets and Camden councils supporting their growth, giving indies low-risk entry and the chance to test new markets, it’s surely time northern councils followed suit.

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