Pandemic diary 96: Is it time to temporarily pedestrianise the high street?

METAPHOR ALERT! A white rose climber looking for help and support to climb higher.

Local lockdown survey results

My local MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Steve McCabe, did a survey about what people felt about relaxing the lockdown. I'm sure he won't mind if I republish some of the findings here for posterity. Sadly he doesn't say how many people responded but it was a free survey so I'm guessing it was a fair few. The e-newsletter was sent out 23/6/20.

  • Relaxation of rules: 65% felt concerned that the rules were changing too quickly; 23% were not too sure and only 12% were feeling really positive
  • Trust in the PM/government decisions following Dominic Cummings saga – 78% said they had less trust; only 1% had more trust, with 21% saying it made no difference
  • Work – just under 70% had kept working throughout the crisis; a further 19% were furloughed; 12% shielding and just under 1% have been made redundant
  • Furlough – in Selly Oak constituency 10,300 jobs have been furloughed through the Job Retention Scheme ( 14% of the population)
  • Still shielding – for those not returning to work straightaway, the greatest concern was around those who are shielding and anxiety they might feel under pressure to take greater risks
  • Unemployment – figures for May 2020 unemployment in Birmingham is now 14.5%, the highest level since 1987. Youth Unemployment is at 18%.

Of course, things are moving so fast that this already feels like last month's news. Lockdown is as good as lifted with people going back to work, shops reopening and the wider movement of people starting up again.

For example, I'm just now reading about the holiday booking "explosion" following the UK gov announcing that the English can go on holiday to some European countries and not have to quarantine on their return. Which is nice for them but, ahem, isn't international travel how we all got into this global pandemic mess?

But back to local issues…

Stirchley's situation

My neighbourhood shops have mostly closed during lockdown, except for the likes of food shops – Dave's convenience store, Ward's greengrocer and Loaf bakery – and, of course, the pharmacy.

Many local businesses in Stirchley have been adapting to new trading conditions by pivoting their business models to:

  • food and drink takeaways (Attic, Birmingham Brewing Company, Couch, Alicia's, Can-Eat, Eat Vietnam, Anjuna Lounge, Balti Bazaar, Akrams and others)
  • areas where they can maintain customer safety (eg, Loaf community bakery dropping classes for bread baking)
  • running online events and happenings (Artefact's online quiz and big community art project).

There have also been casualties. Mirror Image, a longtime hairdresser on Stirchley High Street, announced it was closing permanently as "with the extended lockdown and escalation of Coronavirus we feel we can no longer ensure your safety". It was sad to see the shop emptied out when we walked past today.

As from next week (4 July), the micropubs and breweries of the Stirchley Beer Mile can open once again as drinking venues – though they will surely take a hit with all the restrictions that need to be put in place.

How else can we help our high streets?

Pedestrianising Stirchley high street, which has mostly become a place to go out rather than shop now, would be the change I would like to see – if only for certain days or evenings in the week. After all, outdoor activities carry the least risk. Plus, lockdown showed us how much better life was without vehicles clogging up the roads, and we already know we need to clean up pollution hotspots and reduce carbon emissions.

The council is supposed to be making more emergency space for distancing to happen by using parking bays as pavements, but wouldn't it be great to be able to spill out across the whole main street area, to run outdoor classes, night markets, set up stalls? Allow for safe socialising and a more outdoor economy, even if only for the summer months?

We could alternate closures with other local high streets so that we swap traffic for those times. It wouldn't suit every high street, but why not use this time to experiment and test all the options? Yes, it's radical but no more so than lockdown.

A lot of businesses in Stirchley are independent and new, and this has knocked them for six. Most are just trying to survive. And although the community wants to help and support them by buying their products and services, it's not going to be enough.

I'd like to see more creative solutions tested out now, ones that allow our high streets to pivot to the new normal that was always coming with the changing nature of retail and leisure, and bigger issues around clean air and climate change. I would like to see more options that enable small businesses to make it through to the post-Covid-19 world.

Basically, help us to help them.

Thanks

Today I am thankful for the simple things, such as, sun-warmed bricks for my coffee-drinking, biscuit-dunking arse; a dousing of rain to water all the flowers and allotment crops and save me a job; and a garden full of roses and scents – I'll leave you with our wedding rose (anniversary due in two weeks).

MARRIAGE METAPHOR ALERT – happy to report the wedding rose is thriving with barely any greenfly.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


2 thoughts on “Pandemic diary 96: Is it time to temporarily pedestrianise the high street?”

  1. We were intrigued to see a nice new yoga studio near to the Gorilla today but not sure when they opened and how they will manage. It was also fun to see the HUUUUUGE queue at Loaf the other Saturday (and similar ones up in Bournville for Leverton's and the butchers).

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