GDE720 - Week 10

GDE720 – Week 10 : Workshop Challenge

I’m excited to get my teeth into this week – we’re looking at issues affecting our localities and there are quite a few I coud pick out. I really want to choose three that I feel I’ve seen the biggest effects of, the ones that I feel affect this city the most. I posted the following initial thoughts to the Ideas Wall and got some great feedback:

I absolutely agree with Stuart and James – I am so intrigued as to how empty stores can become something attractive within this city, and perhaps encourage an initiative to get Young aspiring artists to decorate or use these spaces at discounted prices for the summer. Perhaps they could be the answer to enhancing our local artist and creative community within the city centre, which has always been far too expensive for aspiring artists. It would also help with the issue of homelessness, as a number of these empty stores have doorways which have been encouraging the homeless community to congregate here – we need to nip this in the bud so perhaps it can be a start to encouraging this community to utilise the many homeless accommodations available and the stores could even hire homeless people as a step in the right direction.

Recently, a cafe has opened which only hires women who have just been released from the local prison, this initiative is huge and not something we’ve had here before in York. I think with the right training and encouragement the same could be done for our homeless community.

I need to really do some research to nail down the exact purpose of this campaign, and the right focus. If I spread the focus too widely, it could affect the feasibilty of the project.

York’s Empty Streets

Following my research, it’s evident that the following problems can be distilled from the findings:

  • Small retailers are being pushed out
  • Rents are too high (hence the above)
  • National shops are coming in to take over the empty stores due to the higher rents and Indie stores are struggling
  • Monks Cross development has hindered the city centre – it’s free to park, loads of shops and it’s outdoors for Covid. BUT John Lewis might be shutting up there so could drive more people back
  • Online shopping habits have MASSIVELY increased and it’s down to feeling comfortable and safe to go outside. Most people now have become so used to online shopping and using amazon that it’s just their go to now.
  • Hotels are now filling empty stores or large department stores, meaning fewer actual shops and eateries are also doing this.
  • I’ve found the cheapest city centre rent available is £24k (highest being £130kp.a.!!) per year. However, this comes with a minimum 10 year lease and an upwards only rent increase after 5 years. As Independent stores try to do well in the city centre, this will cause big problems.
  • The Blank Canvas Programme is a Yorkshire initiative (or Northern) and aims to help artists and creatives or smaller businesses get their work into these empty stores. Recently the old Dorothy Perkins was transformed into a pop up art gallery for local artists – however, this was only achievable as the property is owned by a York based Estate Agency and the charity signed a 12-18 month lease.

Could we utilise these spaces for a number of different uses – eg. fitness? Local artists? Small businesses with no shop?

With over 40 empty stores in the City Centre, a campaign or initiative to create a myriad of opportunities within these spaces could be a valuable asset to a potentially dying city centre. A recent survey showed York was in the top 10 most at risk high streets in the UK, a once thriving City which celebrated it’s rich history and culture is now a bar and restaurant filled typical high street with very few traditional or independent stores. York BID is trying very heard to push and help independent businesses get a foothold in York, with the help of Spark:York, a small community of shipping containers offering cheap rents to new and budding businesses. A large number of these businesses have flourished and gone on to move into stores in the City Centre, but there’s still very little help available to new businesses.

With a new loss of 55 chain stores in the city, with people still unsure and uncertain about stepping outside to go shopping, can we utilise these vast empty spaces to benefit our community?

In December 2020, York BID (Business Improvement District) set up a “fantastic fiction” feature in the old Debenhams store, with spectacular light up displays from children’s stories and popular fiction. It was a truly magical display and really helped lighten up a now quiet and empty street – however it’s not a permanent fixture and will soon be taken down. This Debenhams store is vast and is connected to another empty store and sits opposite two other large empty shops. However, it’s just next door to Betty’s tea shop so sees plenty of visitors along the street.

Can we help young and small independent businesses get a foot up on the retail ladder? By providing a space within these stores, small businesses will be able to choose from a variety of space sizes and begin selling their products on a daily basis, not just relying on selling online. Through offering real in-situ shop space, these businesses will have a fantastic location on one of the busiest streets in York and will be able to promote their own business.

My campaign will involve York BID, alongside the charity Skippo and the Blank Canvas Programme to help fill these empty stores, provide Landlords with a good rent and give small businesses the chance to shine. This summer, the City is over 800% higher on bookings for holiday lets than last year. This is the ideal time to really promote our small local talent and encourage tourists to shop local. I will be speaking to a number of small businesses in York as well as emailing the Charity Skippo and Blank Canvas Programme to get some insight on this campaign and it’s viability.

Please see my distilled project brief below:

Please follow this link to view the PDF version.


York Press. (n.d.). Two more stores in York city centre to close. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].

York Press. (n.d.). New pop-up art gallery opens in former Dorothy Perkins store. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].

YorkMix. (2020). Video and pictures: York shop transformed into a magical storybook world this Christmas. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].

York Press. (n.d.). Thought the high street was dying? These four empty shops are all set to reopen. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].

YorkMix. (2020). York worst hit place in Britain for shop closures, new report says. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021]. (n.d.). The state of UK retail one year after the first lockdown – Retail Gazette. [online] Available at:

YorkMix. (2020). York one of the most at-risk high streets in the UK, according to new survey. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].

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