Through our conversations with the community, it became apparent there is a need to expand the potential of existing valued town centre institutions, whilst also attracting new organisations to grow and diversify the civic offer to meet local demand. This Community Plan prioritises increasing the social capacity of the town centre. Identifying opportunities to improve access and awareness of community facilities, diversify revenue/funding streams and expand opportunities for participation, so that the town centre becomes the lifeblood of its community.
Why it is important
Before COVID-19, the retail sector was already in peril nationally with many large retailers closing their physical stores, due to it proving more cost-effective to operate online. It has been acknowledged nationally that high streets need to develop Adaptive Strategies (GLA 2020). This includes diversifying the high street offer through the development of the social and leisure economy, so they can better fulfil their role as part of the daily lifeblood of their local community. Chipping Barnet is no exception to this trend and in recent years has seen vacancy rates increase across the high street.
Barnet Council’s studies suggest social isolation is especially prominent in elderly women living alone, especially in areas of higher affluence and lower population density, which makes Chipping Barnet a focus area to address this. High Streets have a significant role to play in hosting the social life of our communities. A GLA study found that 45% of users’ primary reason to visit a high street was non-retail related and when asked, people most valued the social exchanges that their high streets offered. Both the environmental and social benefits of sharing culture can be significant: building social relationships within a community by establishing trust and reciprocity can lead to a decrease in fear, intolerance, and isolation while increasing a sense of belonging and pro-social behaviours.
As set out within the GLAs Child-Friendly City guidance, there is a need to ensure young people’s needs are also taken into account and measures taken to improve their access to the city’s social and physical infrastructure. This includes opportunities to enjoy cultural activities, parks, open spaces, museums, and galleries as well as being able to move around their neighbourhood safely and independently. There is evidence to suggest that the limitation on young peoples’ radius of activity’ – the area around their home where they are allowed to roam unsupervised – has declined by almost 90% since the 1970s. This has had profound consequences for our children’s physical and mental health.
Valued community & cultural assets
Support local people & encourage visitors
Some projects limited in their aspirations due to scale & facilities
Others wanting to grow funding opportunities
Support existing community groups to become more prominent on the high street
Chipping Barnet has a number of existing community spaces both in and around the town centre. Currently, the town centre hosts many established civic uses such as the Chipping Barnet Library, several places of worship, community halls, and facilities. Spaces such as St John the Baptist and Wesley Hall host active community initiatives such as the recently started Repair Cafe, while Christ Church hosts the Open-Door cafe and various projects for the elderly. There are several self-organised groups, from toddler groups to the very active University of the 3rd Age, who frequently meet in local halls and cafés around the area. Community projects and groups are also located near the edge of the town, including the Barnet Environment Centre north-west of the town centre, which is supported by an active volunteer base.
Notwithstanding the wealth of community activity, awareness of these facilities and the activities they offer is low; especially for those visiting the Town Centre. There is an opportunity to deliver improved signage to identify and direct people towards these local assets across the town centre. Furthermore, to help raise awareness, there is a need to create opportunities to enable local community groups to activate the high street, utilising spaces like the college square to host activities/events to share culture to increase local awareness and opportunities to participate. This physical presence should be supported by online communication, building on the work of local platforms such as High Barnet Living and Love Barnet.
Improve the sustainability of civic assets
Existing institutions in Chipping Barnet conveyed that they are affected by several ongoing limitations including funding, space, and resources. Organisations such as the Barnet Museum have a plan to grow their educational programme and exhibition space. Other organisations like the Bull Theatre, are looking to diversify their offer, to include a new community programme of weekly activities/events to increase opportunities for the community to engage whilst diversify revenue streams.
Through conversations locally, a few groups shared that they were looking to establish new community spaces on the high street, including Family Hubs and affordable Co-Working spaces. A number of these initiatives are looking to set up social enterprises, combining a mix of community and business programming, to enable these ventures to be viable long term. These new groups indicated several barriers preventing them from setting up. Some of these include access to business training and seed funding and the need to access affordable, low-risk, and flexible space on high streets. Without this, groups perceive risk to be high and therefore unable to test and fine-tune a bespoke and local model on the high street. Residents have also suggested the temporary use of vacant units to showcase social and cultural activities, such as classes to exhibitions, and an inventory of indoor and outdoor spaces that could host community-based activities.
Increase offer for the youth and children
While there is good provision of community infrastructure within Chipping Barnet, there are gaps in the demographics served. A key area to prioritise within Chipping Barnet is increasing the accessibility of the high street and community spaces for young people and children. This is important to ensure young people feel safe, able, and welcomed to meet, play, create, and contribute to their community.
There is an opportunity to build on the success of initiatives such as the Teenage Market and the presence of the College to identify opportunities to work with existing organisations to establish new spaces and improve the programme of activities available for the youth. Another key opportunity is to make more of the green assets around the town centre, improving their play and education offer, so they become active destinations for children and young people to meet and socialise throughout the week.