An action plan is being drawn up to find short-term uses for empty shops in Sheffield city centre - using a successful formula from the other side of the world.
The strategy will be based on the reinvigoration of Newcastle, a steel and coal town near Sydney, where artists, craftspeople and entrepreneurs moved into buildings until the premises become commercially viable or were redeveloped.
Already Sheffield has the Showcase project, which animates shops windows on the site of the proposed retail quarter, around Pinstone Street, Barkers Pool and Moorhead pending redevelopment.
Now the council is looking to step up a gear, working with the University of Sheffield, with a view to a social enterprise that could help beat the blight and make the city centre more attractive.
“We think there is potential,” said cabinet member Coun Leigh Bramall. “There are a lot of similarities between Newcastle and Sheffield.”
The project is still at an early stage, but the idea is to give small businesses a city centre outlet on a free rolling monthly lease.
Property owners would benefit from lower insurance premiums because the premises are occupied. In the longer term, it is hoped that property values will rise with the numbers of shoppers in the area.
Renew Newcastle, a not-for-profit company, was created in New South Wales, to generate activity in board-up buildings until long-term uses were found. Photographers, fashion designers, digital artists were among small businesses that took advantage.
The approach has been hailed a success, with one observer saying it had “recycled, reinvigorated, revived, revitalised, recreated and reimagined the city”.
Now Sheffield is seeing what lessons can learned. Newcastle representative Marcus Westbury gave workshops with students at Sheffield University’s architecture department, gave a public lecture and met council officers and councillors to discuss the potential for the city centre.
It comes as city centre businesses are to be balloted on a proposed Business Improvement District generating £800,000 a year for initiatives such as subsidised parking, events and marketing.