Meet the community group looking to run the Grade II-listed Arcade in Dewsbury
Traditional high streets could experience a surge of support as Britain emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, according to traders that are looking to help revive a historic shopping arcade in Dewsbury.
The Arcade has been derelict since 2016 but Kirklees Council purchased the Grade II-listed Victorian building last year.
A community interest company called ‘The Arcade – Dewsbury’ is now pitching to take over the running of the building once a £2.3m refurbishment programme has been completed in 2022.
Natalie Liddle, a member of The Arcade – Dewsbury steering group, told The Yorkshire Post that while many of the people who have been forced to shop online by Covid-19 will keep that routine there will be many who will want to come out and support independent retailers.
“There will be a surge in people wanting to go out and use local shops and support local businesses that have suffered so much in this pandemic,” she said.
Ms Liddle runs Eye Wood Vintage, selling vintage fashion and using that revenue to put on community based arts events.
The Arcade – Dewsbury will be unveiling its plans in the spring. It is aiming to run the building for the benefit of the town with local people being invited to buy shares.
Sarah Barnes, owner of the West Riding pub, which is part of the Real Ale Trail, believes that many people have turned to running their own small businesses online during the pandemic.
These entrepreneurs will need space as they outgrow their homes and garages and by offering low rents The Arcade could be the place for them, she says.
Ms Barnes, who is also a member of the steering group, said: “The rents have been too high and the buildings have got into a state where you wouldn’t come and rent it. This is why we’re getting a group like this together.”
The restoration of The Arcade is at the heart of the council’s Dewsbury Blueprint, a 10-year plan to regenerate the town. The council has three main options for the building.
It can put it out to tender for a private company to take a lease for the building; Kirklees Council could run The Arcade itself; or a community-led initiative like the one that Ms Barnes and Ms Liddle are a part of can take on responsibility for running it.
Peter Thompson, project manager at Kirklees Council, said the council is “very open to the idea of a community-run business operating the centre because we think there are numerous benefits”.
He added: “No decisions have been taken as yet but clearly we are supportive of the concept of a community business taking this over.”
The building has 17 small shops book-ended at each corner by four larger three-storey units. Mr Thompson says the aim is to have The Arcade open well before Christmas 2022.
“We can’t put it back to how it was,” he said. “It won’t be a fully retail arcade. It will be a combination of services. Something that is a bit of a destination.”
Mr Thompson added: “When we have been out consulting about the regeneration of the town centre, The Arcade has come up again and again as one of the most important things that’s close to people’s hearts in Dewsbury.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia with people remembering how it used to be and they want to see it back.”
Following previous false dawns over plans to regenerate Dewsbury town centre, Ms Liddle said: “I think there’s an idea that it might never happen. There’s been attempts to revive Dewsbury in the past that have not been successful. The message is it’s happening and we are as a group incredibly passionate about making it a success.”
Still a place for physical retail
The Arcade – Dewsbury community interest company would hope to attract independent businesses to take up space at The Arcade if it is successful with its pitch to run the building.
Natalie Liddle says it is important for independents to be supported as they are what give the high street its character. While online shopping has entered a lot of people’s lives there is still a place for physical retail
Ms Liddle said: “People need to interact. It’s part of human nature. People do need to see people.
“Going out shopping is not just about going out and doing shopping.”