The future of our high streets: Less retail and more experiences

  • Video report by ITV Meridian's Richard Jones

Most shops across cities in the Meridian region are closed and won't trade until 12th April, at the earliest.

There are concerns some shops will be victims of changing trends, which has seen many people switch to shopping online.

In Portsmouth, the question remains over the impact the pandemic will have had on the high street.

The former Woolworths shop in Southsea is now a library Credit: ITV News Meridian

A few miles away from Portsmouth is Southsea, where the days of big chain shops are largely over.

There are plans to transform two department stores in the town, which have closed in recent years.

Work on what used to be Knight and Lee is about to start. It'll include a boutique hotel and a cinema.

The proposals for what was Debenhams are well advanced. Housing will be on the upper floors and downstairs, there could also be a new medical hub.

  • Shaun Adams, National Regional Property Group

There is unlikely to be traditional retail units, as independent shops will have to offer consumers more than just products.

The owner of a craft shops says the workshops they were offering people before lockdown "meant a lot to people".

Owner Alexsis Seed now has plans to expand, as people will want to "get out" more.

  • Alexsis Seed, Owner of Seeded

She said: "People enjoyed growing with us. They were invested and felt like they were getting something back."

Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan, Portsmouth University, says our high streets will survive, but by offering more than financial transactions, in order to compete with online retailers.

She said: "You might have a reading group in a bookshop, craft groups meeting in art shops, children's activities in toy shops.

"There are many ways to connect retail to some experiences."

Portsmouth City Council has £3 million to spend on its shopping areas and is looking at a variety of ideas about how they might look in the future.

One of the ideas that's being suggested is a Portsmouth museum in Commercial Road.

Councillor Steve Pitt says it would be: "All about Pompey, the dockyard, the football club, all that heritage, something for local people to be proud of and also provide interest for visitors".

  • Cllr Steve Pitt, Portsmouth City Council

Councillor Steve Pitt also said that the regeneration of what a high street actually is, means there is hope for the future.

He said: "There is an awful lot we can do. We just need to stop thinking about the high street as being retail and becoming community hubs. Once you do that there are a lot of opportunities available."