From education to employment

Activate Learning Combines Creative Arts and the British High Street

Iain Landles, Director of the Faculty of Creative Arts at Activate Learning
As ecommerce and online shopping have taken off this has created a decline in the selection of shops open to consumers on the high street.  In fact over the past few years some very well-known brands have disappeared from the high street altogether and instead been replaced by charity shops and pound stores, or simply remain unattractively empty.
This poses a challenge for town centres and high street retailers, and in particular many of the independent shop owners who pride themselves on offering unique goods that are not always available online.  So, what can be done to revive the UK’s high streets?
A number of highly creative entrepreneurs have sought to combat this issue with the idea of temporary or pop-up shops. These temporary retail stores occupy shop space for a limited time, often taking advantage of a trend or seasonal demand. The short-lived supply time of the pop-up shop draws consumers in due to the unique, one-off products and the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ mantra.
In the past few years this type of rejuvenation has really started to take off. Communities are working together to utilise empty shop spaces and transforming them into temporary shops, art exhibitions and displays to attract more trade into towns. Landlords are also working with independe  nt retailers and many local colleges with students now getting involved to rejuvenate towns and make them vibrant again.
A great example is Banbury College, which is part of Activate Learning, where students are using their art and fashion skills and applying these skills to industry. Higher education creative art and design students in Banbury opened a pop-up shop selling cards, gifts and decorations produced by artists and makers from Banbury and Bicester College. This not only helped to attract shoppers back in to an empty shop but also provided the students with the experience of working in a commercial environment.  They had to think not only about producing goods that would have commercial appeal but also how to price these goods, to produce enough to meet demand, and so on.  Even better, when pop-up shop closed, the students gave back to the community by donating some of the proceeds to the Banbury Young Homeless project.
In another great example, creative arts students from the College collaborated with Banbury’s town team co-ordinators to take over the window of an empty shop unit in the high street. The students installed an avant-garde ballet exhibition in the former Moss Bros window, which proved extremely popular and allowed the student’s work to be showcased to a wider audience.
As a result of the innovation shown by students and the local community, Banbury was shortlisted as a finalist in the 2016 Great British High Street Awards. The objective behind these awards is to support those working to revive, adapt and diversify high streets. At the core, the Great British High Street Awards seek to provide resources for high street regeneration and celebrate innovative work going on in high streets across Britain.
Banbury has shown how it is reviving the town centre through a month long festival which takes place in June each year.  ‘We’re here now’, showcases work by the area’s most exciting young arts talent, combining exhibitions, workshops, pop-up shops and community initiatives.  The festival, which is now in its third year, brings an upsurge of people into the town offering the opportunity to buy original work by exhibiting artists.
These local collaborations have benefits all round.  It has exposed students to industry skills that lead them to think about the art that they are creating and how it can be applied to industry and career choices and it brings a fresh vibrant feel to the town centre.  So, not only has the community benefited from this resurgence of commerce and creativity, but the students involved have gained practical skills that allow them to think more commercially.activate logo
Here at Activate Learning we are keen to explore more of these kind of collaborations that bring back life to our town centres while teaching students some valuable skills along the way.
Iain Landles, Director of the Faculty of Creative Arts at Activate Learning

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