How to… revive a declining high street
Make things happen and people will come, says Lucia Das Neves of We Love Myddleton Road, which won the London category in the Great British High Street Awards last week
Myddleton Road is a Victorian street in Haringey, with history, in more ways than one. For years local people have battled to ‘save’ it.
Multiple problems had conspire to prevent people shopping in the street, from an increase of homes of multiple occupancy and illegal dwellings to a lack of bins, crime and ‘shed sits’ in gardens.
Now we find ourselves winner of the London category of the Great British High Street awards, a competition that rewards high street innovation, and we’re excited.
Some local residents have been involved in Myddleton Road for years. They secured and managed a community garden, and more recently an outdoor gym and table tennis table. Hard work and small beginnings that gave our street a heartbeat.
The Bowes Park Community Association worked closely with the council and local councillors and this partnership has paid dividends – even if at times it wasn’t clear what could and would be achieved. It led to Heritage Lottery Funding (matched by the council) to restore some shop fronts to their Victorian splendour. It gave the street a lift and told the world it was worth investing in.
As is often true in life, a tipping point came around three years ago when a new business took a risk and invested on the street. The Step brought to all our attention the good and bad of Myddleton Road. People had passion for the place and our campaign group We Love Myddleton Road was born.
Agile and fluid, we haven’t spent too much time on the admin, focusing instead on action. As a new volunteer-led market developed, we partnered with it, running two festivals a year. We started small, just a little lantern parade on a car-riddled street in December.
Now it involves road closures and is an all-singing, all-dancing event and this month ‘Santa-in-a-Camper’ came to greet our children at the Winter Festival. And for the first time we have a Christmas tree on the street.
On our journey we have begged, borrowed and cajoled: staging from a local school, local musicians to sing for free, tables from a church hall and good will and solid volunteering!
As local businesses have seen the effect of what we’re doing they have supported us – with pots of money, vans for transport and labour.
Our hyperlocal website bowesandbounds.org is the place for local residents to share views and ask questions. It has been fundamental in allowing us to reach the community and share what we’re doing. One of our significant achievements is a survey of 600 residents – asking them how and where they shop and what they want from Myddleton Road.
It’s a powerful tool to use with local landlords and traders. And it has led to one existing trader opening a second business, the top requested shop on the street: a bakery!
How have we got here? With perseverance, by using our different skills, and by building close partnerships with the council, traders, landlords and residents. By always looking for long-term relationship and effect.
We’ve run festivals, cash mobs, and photo competitions. We’ve written to landlords, fought planning applications, battled rubbish and litter. Sometimes our meetings attract ten people, sometimes four, but our mailing list keeps people informed and when something needs doing we put it out there and someone volunteers (usually!).
We started small – and we are still very much on our journey. Winning the award is such a great celebration of our community and what can be achieved when people come together. We’re not unique. So many communities are working hard to make a difference, as the awards demonstrate.
How do we sum up our special story? By the hundreds of people that shopped and celebrated at our recent winter festival? By the 160 children that saw Santa that day? Or perhaps by the teenage boy who came into one of the shops on the street and said ‘thank you for our Christmas tree’? That is what it’s all about.