Community Improvement Districts Project: A sustainable model for communities to regenerate their high streets?

Across the country, high streets are struggling, with many shops lying empty. Power to Change has been exploring the idea of creating Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) to support community-led approaches to high street regeneration, and in June 2022 announced seven CID pilots across England.

Image Credit: Power to Change

Shared Assets has been working with Julian Dobson at Sheffield Hallam University as the “learning partners” to these seven pilots. We have worked alongside the community organisations, local authorities and business improvement districts that make up the pilots as they trialled new ways of rejuvenating their high streets.

"Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) provide a new approach for community stakeholders to have more say on strategic direction of the high streets alongside local authorities, businesses and other local stakeholders." - Power to Change

Alongside Sheffield Hallam University, we helped to produce the final report on the programme, which outlines how CIDs can offer an important opportunity to bring new voices into the debate about the future of local high streets, and describes recommendations for local people and organisations, policymakers, government and funding organisations that could support the development of Community Improvement Districts for the future.

Four Stages of Community-Led High Street Regeneration

Our learning partners have identified four stages of community-led high street regeneration.  

  1. ‘Setting the vision’ involves holding conversations with local people to generate ideas and a shared vision for their place. Our CID pilot ‘One Kilburn’ led by Camden Council employed and trained people as ‘community activators’, to engage residents in conversations about the future of Kilburn. Ipswich Central CID have held workshops in colleges and schools to gather young people’s views on how Ipswich the ‘connected town’ should be.  
  2. Activating the space involves bringing new activities and life into under-used spaces and promoting events and gatherings. Future Wolverton did this by hosting a Samba performance on their main square as part of its ‘Community Conversation’ event.  
  3. Short term interventions such as bringing empty buildings back into use, creating new public spaces, experimenting, and improving the public realm. In Stretford, CID leaders set up a highly successful ‘free shop’, for pre-loved school uniforms as families were struggling to afford this cost.  
  4. Taking ownership of property. By bringing buildings into community ownership, sustainable income streams through leasing or trading, can be used to support social outcomes.  Community Anchor organisation ‘Back on the Map’ in Hendon is currently negotiating the purchase of five vacant shops on the street for community use.

Find the final report here.

A CID could start with any of these stages, and different types of organisations can bring different strengths. Local authorities could bring resources and convening power, whereas community-led organisations could bring ideas, energy, and a grassroots network. A Business Improvement District could bring a strong existing structure and business connections.  

With so many potential benefits to be gained from more community leadership in our struggling town centres, it’s great to have more clarity on exactly how we can make this happen...

If you think a CID is something you’d like to try, read Power to Change's guidance for inspiration.  

Four stages of community-led high street regeneration set out and described within the report
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