WeAreWaterloo Business Improvement District (BID) tackles high street decline by funding shopfront improvements

It’s no secret that high streets around the UK are still struggling. Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium reported 1 in 10 shops are now empty, with vacancies reaching “critical levels” in all location types.

But in one London neighbourhood, an innovative new project is helping to turn things around. Over the past year, WeAreWaterloo Business Improvement District (BID) has pro-actively addressed one of the issues associated with high street decline. With the financial impact of the pandemic preventing many small businesses from spending money on their buildings, WeAreWaterloo has invested over £30,000 into the renovation of 10 shopfronts located throughout the local area. This project has strengthened the local economy, promoted community engagement, and improved the visitor experience by creating a more vibrant local area. The success of the scheme has led to the BID extending applications with a second round of funding.

Key Points 

  • The ‘Redesign Shopfront Improvement Grant Scheme’ launched in August 2022.
  • The Grant saw 14 independent businesses in Waterloo receive up to £5,000 per shopfront.
  • As of September 2023, 10 shopfronts have been successfully transformed.
  • Businesses that have taken part include: Sista Barista, Calder Bookshop and Theatre,
    Greensmiths, The Wedding Wardrobe, Wing Loon Café and Glitch

  • A specially prepared Information Guide encouraged applicants to use local contractors.
  • A partnership with an award-winning sustainable paint start-up enabled free colour consultations and paint discounts.
  • The success of the project means a second round of funding has now been confirmed (with
    applications open until 3 November 2023).

Shopfront design is fundamental to attracting new visitors and ensuring repeat customers. Visually appealing facades and retail corridors also significantly contribute to an individual’s positive perception of an area. However, the financial impact of recent years has prevented many businesses from investing in their shopfronts.

Having published its Waterloo Placemaking Strategy last year, WeAreWaterloo has been on a mission to brighten up the area’s shopping parades and encourage the exploration of its diverse local business community. In August 2022, the BID launched the ‘Redesign Shopfront Improvement Grant Scheme’ to help independent local businesses fund their own shopfront renovation projects.

From a fresh coat of paint and brand-new signage to festoon lighting and menu displays,
WeAreWaterloo empowered businesses to enliven their units. Offering grants of up to £5,000 per shopfront, the BID received over 20 applications from across SE1. After a rigorous selection process, 14 successful businesses received funding to carry out their renovations including cafes, restaurants, beauticians, arts institutions and even a historic bookshop.

The projects varied in their scope from lighting and security improvements to signage, repaints and even a floral display. Highlighting a wide variety of local contractors in the Information Guide, applicants were encouraged to keep money in the local economy when carrying out their renovation.

In addition, WeAreWaterloo partnered with award-winning sustainable paint start-up, Yes Colours, who provided free colour consultations to grant recipients along with exclusive discounts on their selection of vibrant paint colours.

The results of this grant scheme can now be seen across Waterloo. Fresh pops of colour, planters full of greenery, spaces for outdoor dining and professional sign writing have appeared across the neighbourhood. Not only do these renovations directly benefit the recipient businesses, but they also have knock-on effects for the wider area by reactivating high streets and encouraging visitors to explore Waterloo’s unique business community.

WeAreWaterloo Chief Executive, Natalie Raben, added “We are delighted by the results of our firstever Waterloo shop front improvement grant scheme. It has been incredible to see businesses that struggled so much during the pandemic be given this new lease of life through these renovations. This type of project is exactly why we developed the Waterloo Placemaking Strategy as it speaks directly to Waterloo’s identity, both in its vibrancy and resilience”.

Local business owners who took up the opportunity to transform their shopfronts and contribute to the overall aesthetic and economic appeal of the neighbourhood are thrilled with the results. As Wendy from Sista Barista explains: “I believe our daily turnover has increased by at least 20% because the cafe is now much more noticeable and attractive to customers. Redesign was a great project and funded something I would not have been able to afford myself, especially when we are still recovering from the impact of COVID. We have received so many positive comments from regular customers and visitors”.

Luis from The Calder Bookshop and Theatre adds:
“We had excellent feedback from customers about the new image of the shop and a very good summer of sales, we think the two facts are related. We are now able to keep more stock outside with the new canopy, even under heavy rain, which attracts more people to the shop. The grant scheme was a great experience overall.”

Stanley from Greensmiths continues: “We have been able to completely refresh and reinvigorate our shop front in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the Redesign grant. This has been a fantastic scheme and makes such a big difference to an independent business like ours.”

The BID is excited to announce that the success of this shopfront improvement grant scheme means they are now accepting applications for a second round of funding (open until Friday 3 November 2023). More information about the project and how to apply can be found in the newly updated
Redesign Information Guide.

Featured Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash.

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