In a summer of despairing headlines about retail in the high street, what do those who use them think about their future? To find out, a series of workshops in five towns is bringing together those who use, live, work, do business, shop, have fun, or manage high streets. The workshops have been commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government but will be led by the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and supported by the university's policy think-tank, Metropolis.

Holmfirth, Altrincham, Bristol and Shrewsbury are four of the towns chosen for the workshops, which will be hosted by local IPM members. A fifth event will be held around the forthcoming Teenage Market in Bolton, engaging with stallholders and customers. The workshops will look at work already done and planned to make each town centre better and hear about what the latest research says about the changing high street, but the main part of the workshop is focused on hearing from those who use the high street in some way. What do they think of the changes that have happened? What challenges have they faced? What would make it better? Given we can’t turn the clock back, what kind of high street do they see in the future? What should be done?

The workshops will generate insight that will be fed back directly back to the Ministry. They will also be shared with the Expert Panel recently appointed by Minister for the High Street, Jake Berry, to diagnose issues that currently affect the health of our high streets and advise on the best practical measures to help them thrive now and in the future,

Members of the Expert Panel will attend the workshops and in encouraging attendance by local participants, the Chair, Sir John Timpson, said

"Throughout my career, high streets and city centres have continually changed to fulfil the needs of society.  The panel cannot offer an instant, quick fix, solution but we hope to identify practical and common sense decisions that will help the government provide the support that local communities and businesses need to provide the leisure and shopping facilities people will want from now.”

Dr Steve Millington, the Principal Researcher leading the workshops explained why the workshops would be a useful contribution to the current knowledge of the high street

“There is a lot of research and reports on high streets now. We know from our own work that they are not all the same. Some are doing better than others. Often the people that make the difference are left out of the story. The people that shop on the high street, the people that live and work there, the ones that try and work together to make a difference do not always get their voices heard"

The workshops are being run over August and September.

“We are very pleased to have the chance to host one of these workshops” said Margaret Dale, from Keep Holmfirth Special, who will host the first workshop. “We have worked hard together with residents and retailers in our town centre to make a number of improvements in recent years, but we recognise that we need to keep changing and this should really help us put our priorities in order and share our experiences with policy-makers, so they can help us.”

The locations have been chosen to illustrate different approaches to high street revitalisation and different challenges. If you have your own thoughts on the future of the high street that you would like to share with us, please send them to Simon Quin and we will include them in our report.