There has been a heavy dose of doom and gloom yet again about the high street/main street recently – from the closure of multiple retailers to disappointing footfall figures. Yet I have also come across some intriguing grass roots projects that are aimed at boosting local businesses and neighborhoods. Here are three:
First there is the new-ish phenomenon of Cash Mobs: “The general idea is to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus. We’d help businesses grow, we’d make people happy, we’d get stuff for ourselves, have a great time, and maybe we’d get a drink to celebrate afterward,” (http://cashmobs.wordpress.com/about-us/). I love the fact that it not only gets people excited about supporting their local shops and restaurants, but also brings them into contact with one another (one of the aims is to meet three people you don’t already know over the course of the evening). The general guidelines for setting up a Cash Mob can be found here. So far, it looks like Cardiff and Orkney are running Cash Mobs in the UK, and they have been running successfully in US and other international cities since mid-2011.
Other projects are designed along the same lines as Kickstarter, the funding platform that lets people pledge money to support a creative endeavor such as a music CD, book or film. One of these so-called crowdfunding projects is Lucky Ant, which helps finance a local business’ improvement or expansion. Lucky Ant is currently featuring a New York ice cream shop called Victory Garden (apparently they specialize in goat-milk soft-serve ice cream) that is seeking a new “grab ‘n go” fridge to expand their offering into the realm of sandwiches and salads. There is a tiered reward system for sponsors, depending on the amount pledged, so local shoppers get a treat in addition to knowing they’ve helped out a favorite business.
Along a similar vein, In Our Back Yard (IOBY) is aimed at supporting local environmental campaigns. Started in New York City, the project has helped neighborhood groups with community composting, raising chickens and more. I think this is a great idea for town centre clean-up days (which actually do need some sponsorship), guerrilla gardening, or even to fund hanging baskets and floral displays to perk up the high street.
The beauty is that these are all ideas that can work anywhere. Now I just need to think about bringing them to a north-west London town centre near me!