Westminster Council says it has had a good response to its scheme for attracting emerging small businesses to vacant retail spaces on Oxford Street in any effort to revive its fortunes.
Launched on 20 July, the Meanwhile On programme, which will offer free retail space to selected applicants for an initial six-month period, has so far attracted nearly 300 a hopefuls, including fashion, sustainability and wellness brands, the council says.
Run in cooperation with the New West End Company, the business improvement district organisation for the area, the goal of the scheme is in part to replace the ubiquitous “candy stores” that have sprung up on and around Oxford Street in recent years, lowering the reputation of the UK’s most famous high street and in several cases being caught selling illegal goods.
The street’s future has been the object of speculation for some time, with major retailers reportedly put off by the deteriorating environment and high rents. Marks and Spencer has warned it might pull out of its landmark shop towards the Marble Arch end having been prevented by Michael Gove from going ahead with redevelopment plans. However, there has been brighter news with the coming return of the HMV music store to its former home and a branch of IKEA due to open in the former Topshop site by the end of the year.
The council says it is in discussions with landlords to arrange the first Meanwhile On unit to be made available, with eight to more to follow over the next three years. These will provide the first physical trading spaces for a minimum of 35 enterprises in all. As well as being entirely rent-free, business rates for those chosen will be reduced by at least 70 per cent.
Meanwhile On, which takes its cue from earlier “meanwhile” or “pop-up” schemes for revitalising retail areas and giving opportunities to innovative young companies, is part of a wider drive by Westminster, which came under Labour control for the first time in its history last year, to invest in high streets throughout the borough under its “fairer economy” plan.
Prior to the May 2022 local elections, senior Labour politicians spoke of trying to attract new types of shops to the ailing street in an attempt to improve its image and attract new visitors. The council says it is particularly keen to work with retailers who give customers an opportunity to see on the premises how their products are made, or to conduct workshops there, adding new dimensions to the shopping experience.
Applications to Meanwhile On can continue to be submitted until the end of the month.