I was the company archivist for Marks & Spencer back in 1999. It was a fabulous collection to work with that also included an enormous series of photos of all the stores – a snapshot of pretty much every high street in the country decade by decade.
Twenty years later, and the high street is seen by many to be in crisis as major retailers collapse or withdraw and online trading continues to dominate the retail market. High streets are now struggling to repurpose themselves as destinations for social interactions and experience with high profile retailers like William Grimsey and John Timpson pushing for the development of local and central government policies to support these changes.
The government Future High Street report, and the independent Grimsey report both recognized the role of libraries on the new high street. Libraries are one of the ‘anchor’ intuitions, drawing people to their local high street and operating as the centre of communities.
A new partnership launched last week by the British Library will help further cement the importance of libraries on our high streets. Start-ups in London Libraries will extend the successful work of the British Library’s Business & IP Centre out into 10 libraries on London high streets.
The aim this new free service is ‘to equip people with the skills, information, confidence and connections they need to turn their ideas into viable businesses.’ The project will also target entrepreneurs traditionally underrepresented at a senior level in UK businesses, including women, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
One of the libraries offering this service is in Newham, where over 9000 new businesses registered with Companies House last year. Many of these are micro businesses that may well find a home in empty shops and in turn help revitalise their local high streets.
The British Library’s National Network Centres are now in 13 cities across the UK and their ambition is to pilot the delivery of services on every high street via the library network.
Our annual seminar in June will explore in more detail the vital role that libraries in making their places great places to live, work and visit.