As the Caravanserai emerges from the ground, there’s one week left for depressed high streets everywhere to come up with innovative new ideas for bringing life back to traditional shopping streets, through the Portas Pilots ‘town teams’ scheme. The Portas Review illustrated how high streets decline when they lose their function as a place to interact with others, become mono-functional and uninviting. Can the Caravanserai offer a new model of sustainable enterprise?
Post clone-town and the death of the high street, projects like the Caravanserai can create an alternative retail model, a place of vitality, enterprise and exchange – an alternative commercial space which brings together a community of creators, producers and retailers to share their skills and learn from each other’s experience, providing a flexible and supportive environment for small enterprises to develop.
It is, nevertheless, a highly risky venture, offering no glamour for the generation weaned on the likes of Westfield. But as an alternative to the ready-made cool of the malls, it offers a lack of pretension, an authenticity grounded in a slow, personal retail experience – a collaboration of consumers and producers, which is full of open ended experiment, learning through trial and error that will foster relationships and loyalty, without the cards to prove it.
The Caravanserai is the epitome of the retail spaces the Portas Pilots are trying to create, bar a high street. In this week’s Budget statement, the Chancellor re-affirmed his commitment to enterprise and support for the creative industries. The London Mayor will be getting £70m from the Local Growth Fund to put this into practice, as well as increased capital allowances for the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone just down the road. The Mayor could do worse than support the Caravanserai and its innovative approach to enterprise.
Contributed by Caravanserai Policy Connector, Sorwar Ahmed.
Sorwar Ahmed runs UrbanEngagement Ltd., an independent community engagement, planning and regeneration consultancy. He is part of the team commissioned by Locality to evaluate the Building Community Neighbourhood Planning Support Scheme, one of the four national providers of neighbourhood planning support funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government. For more information, contact:
Or follow him on twitter @urbanengagement.
Image from The Portas Review Dec 2011