Holmfirth  hosted our first evidence gathering workshop on the future of the high street on Tuesday. Over 40 local people who use, live, do business, shop, have fun and make things happen in the centre of Holmfirth joined local MP, Thelma Walker, and Kirklees Council representatives to discuss the future of the town centre.

Their views were shared with Sir John Timpson, Chair of the Expert Panel appointed by the Minister for the High Streets, Jake Berry, and with a representative of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government policy team. The discussions and points made will be written up by the Institute and fed back to the Ministry and full Expert Panel.

The three hour workshop heard of the Expert Panel's desire to hear at first hand thoughts on the future of the high street from those they serve and also to hear of the experiences of trying to support their vitality and viability.

Many of the initiatives in Holmfirth, a town of just over 20,000 population to the south of Huddersfield, have been initiated and led by local groups. Festivals, street events, and river clean-ups, were followed by surveys to understand what local people wanted from the town which attracted some 4000 responses, campaigns to prevent out of town supermarket development, a survey of buildings in the town, and data-gathering to understand how the town is used as well as initiatives to encourage local spending. The workshop heard about what has happened, plans for the future and challenges still to be addressed, from Margaret Dale and Carolyn Anstey of local group Keep Holmfirth Special.

Institute Directors Steve Millington and Simon Quin gave an insight into trends and developments impacting high streets nationally, before the session broke into groups to explore what people would like to see in their high street in the futute, both new and existing things, and what challenges or barriers they saw to this. Using various exercises, concepts and ideas were prioritised.

"Many of those attending had not previously met but there was a high level of agreement about the future of the town. We think this will be helpful for Holmfirth going forward." said Simon Quin.

Feedback from participants was very positive: "Fantastic event. I hope we can realise the vast opportunities Holmfirth has. Time is of the essence", "Very engaging evening. Let's get Holmfirth thriving" and "The workshop has given us a great bit of insight into the future of the high street and how we can adapt to the needs of tomorrow. It was great hearing from so many opinions and thoughts from so many people from the local community all representing different aspects and areas"

This is the first of a series of workshops to provide evidence to the Ministry as it looks to review high street policy and to provide insight to the Expert Panel. Our next session will be in Altrincham next week.