First published at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sam-conniff/the-high-is-dead_b_3707820.html
The heart attack of the high street isn’t just about the public passing away of HMV, Jessops, Woolworths, KFC and the others who’ve had to close their stores, the truth is that it’s the retailers who passed the best before date, the killer is the context, not the customer, and we have to make sure the victim isn’t the high street.
We still buy the same photography, movies, music and random old odds and sods that we did, we still share and shoplift these things, and in greater gazillions than ever before, but now it’s via Instagram, Itunes and Amazon. And with respect for the dead, they aren’t like for like replacements for our dearly departed high street heroes, they’re a vast improvement.
But because a few high profile companies couldn’t keep step with changing times leaving a few shareholders out of pocket, that doesn’t for a second mean the high street has had it’s day, in fact, it may be that it’s day is yet to come. Keep the wax off those property developers moustaches for just a moment more, don’t turn the old Blockbuster into luxury lifestyle accommodation just yet, there might be an answer around the corner.
Around the country, as you read this, ‘dead’ spaces on the high street have been opened up and are under the control of local young people, who are hacking the high street, rewiring retail and reimagining what it means to be at the heart of the high street.
They’re already organising workshops, performances, exhibitions, markets, dance off’s, Zombie Apocalypses, installations, creativity, inspiration and fun. Young people are the store managers, young people are the staff, young people are curating and creating the content in each store, and every store is selling out fast.
Our high streets don’t need saving from their own mortality, but they do need protecting from their mortal enemies, Pawnbrokers, Chicken shops and Bookies can’t resuscitate the faltering heart of our high streets and their ‘death’ is not diagnosed through corporate failure. The high street is the beating cardiac muscle providing social glue for our communities, giving us places to come together, share, experience and enjoy our lives together.
When the intricate connective tissues of our communities are weakened the risks of social exclusion are the result, for families and for young people, this is well trodden territory, we know where it leads, and we can’t afford to accept to let it continue.
Somewhereto_ Re:store might not be all the answers in a one stop shop, that would take away the fun of perambulating the high street anyway, but in our store lie clues, that can be shared up and down high streets across the land.
So let’s not just listen to the 80% of young people who are asking for a voice in the future of high streets, let’s hand them the keys.
The high street is dead, long live the high street.
P.S. I know KFC isn’t a major high street retailer to have shut down, but if we’re going to re imagine the high street of our dreams…
When I jet-packed into the kitchen, aged nine, and announced that I’d just watched the sun go Super Nova, learned how to walk in space and applied to be a spaceman, my mum made supportive noises and packed me out the door.
I’d made most of it up, sat in an inflatable spaceship, with a cardboard space helmet protecting my overactive imagination. But I really had written the job application to NASA, in crayon, and posted it first class.
Sadly for space exploration, I never heard back.
It is my overwhelming professional view that children who are allowed to explore beyond boundaries are encouraged to view their world the same way, to believe in their own limitless opportunities and potential. And they, in turn, will fear less and achieve more in life.
Conversely a limited view and sense of geographic territoriality has a massively detrimental effect on children’s future chances.
Broadening a child’s horizons broadens their imagination, which fuels aspiration, which translates into success.
Not everyone can fly their children around the seven wonders of the eye-opening world, but you can use an iMac and a mouse mat and show your children a flying carpet and a Tardis.
If, for example, your homework is the Battle of Hastings, the top three (non-sponsored) results in YouTube are exciting video re-enactments of bloody battles with as many historical facts as there are suits of armour!
Compare that with the same top three search results on Bing… Or don’t, because the results are just as boring as it was when I sat in Mr Lancaster’s history class twenty years ago.
There’s a reason YouTube is the number one search engine for the young people I work with, even over Google. It’s because there’s definite benefits to being told stories in videos over being just told anything.
There are likely to be infinitely fewer children imagining themselves as a Knight of King William’s as they plough through Wikipedia than there will those getting fired up waging war themselves, playing 1066, the C4Education online game, a testament to innovative education and the number one organic search result for ‘1066’.
Before secondary school, it’s quite normal for children to play at being knights, doctors, nurses, spacemen, princesses, pop stars and make-believe made-up characters.
If they haven’t fallen in love with a possible future (or five) by the moment it’s time to take study seriously, our children will be less equipped to make the decisions that might fulfil their journeys to infinity, or beyond.
When we still had a careers service in the UK, 40% of state school teenagers said they didn’t know anyone in a career they would like to work in. Please mind the massive inspiration gap.
The major failing of the UK careers services (other than that they fail to exist anymore) was to not bridge the imagination gap so that the fantasy and fun of children’s play could be translated into the ambition-setting and decision-making needed as teenagers.
And if that decision-making part of life were even partly inspired by a developmental time when our children still believed they could be anything, do anything, try anything, pursue the things they liked the sound of when they still wanted to be a lion tamer… then their decisions might be braver, broader, bigger and more ambitious than the generation graduating in a jobless vacuum now.
And there is no better place to find out what a possible future might be than the greatest playground of possible futures ever invented, The World Wide Dressing Up Box.
If I were nine again, sat in my inflatable spaceship, cardboard space helmet in place, iPad in hand, one google search of ‘be an astronaut’ and three clicks later I’m reading astronaut Cady Coleman’s Twitter updates from Space, with regular updates, pictures of Mars and excellent videos of space robots. I could read her witty pre-launch blog and watch her TED Talk live from space.
It’s not meeting her in person, or two weeks’ work experience on Mars, but it’s a pretty mind-expanding experience that no careers advisor, job site or dressing-up box could achieve on its own.
One more search would take me to the NASA guidelines, including simple advice on the subjects to take at school and building up teamwork skills as it turns out “no Astronaut works alone”. Of 195 NASA astronauts, 126 honed their skills in the Scouts.
Mum tried everything to get me in the Scouts, but it just never seemed relevant to my space rocket ambitions. I wish I’d known – maybe I’d be writing this from Orbit.
I believe it’s to all of our benefit if our children get to play in the World Wide Dressing Up Box, to explore fantasies of their future and go on adventures to inspire their imagination. Who knows what they might do, who they could be, or just how far they could go?
In fact, writing this, I’ve got the crayons out to update my own application letter.
This was the long, unedited (and let’s be honest unused) version of an idea I wrote up for CLUB PENGUIN’s Guide to the Wonderful World of the Web.