A colourful street procession of women dancing.
Hi! Street Fest in the Stalybridge High Street Heritage Action Zone © Historic England Archive. DP462207
Hi! Street Fest in the Stalybridge High Street Heritage Action Zone © Historic England Archive. DP462207

High Streets Heritage Action Zone Programme Success Celebrated

Launched in 2020, Historic England’s 4-year High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme has unlocked the potential of 67 historic high streets across England.

Combining investment in buildings and shop fronts with community engagement and cultural events, the programme has helped to boost pride in place, connect communities and drive economic growth.

Video not working due to cookies settings or click here to watch on YouTube

Breathing new life into high streets

This investment has seen derelict and underused buildings restored to become new community spaces such as cinemas and market halls, with over half of the High Street Heritage Action Zones in top priority Levelling Up Areas.

To date, 571 historic buildings have been maintained, restored and brought back into use for communities and local businesses, including 255 shop fronts. Nearly 30,000 square metres of vacant, under-used or new commercial floor space is now in use.

Cultural events brought people back to high streets

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme of cultural events was the largest ever publicly funded community-led cultural programme to date, directly supporting regeneration in places that need it most, encouraging people to visit their local high streets, and breathing new life into them for future generations.

Three out of every four people who joined in with local events had come to the high street specially and went on to spend money locally while there.

After attending a cultural event, 80% of people felt more pride in their place and a part of their community.

Creating partnerships

The programme worked in partnership with local authorities, community trusts and more than 400 arts organisations on a wide range of projects across England. To date, over £81 million of funding delivered by Historic England has unlocked over £100 million further funding as local authorities and partners continue to celebrate and invest in their high streets. The programme has also built new connections between local organisations and communities who are continuing to collaborate with a new sense of belonging and pride.

So far, High Streets Heritage Action Zone partners have organised nearly 19,500 new cultural and community activities and 332 new school activities and events across England.

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative has been funded with £40 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund and £52 million from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Future High Street Fund. A further £3 million has been provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support the cultural programme.

We want our high streets to last. We know how important they are to our collective identity, our local pride and our sense of place. This means reimagining a new future for them so they remain at the heart of our communities. Our High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative has proved that heritage-led regeneration can unlock a new, positive future for England’s high streets. Across the 4 years, I have seen the simple yet tangible impact that restoring shop fronts and community spaces makes. And I have witnessed the power of bringing people together on our high streets through celebratory cultural events. These places deserve a future.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme has demonstrated a successful model for revitalising high streets in England. Delivered during uncertain times, it has shown that a programme focused on partnership working and community engagement can respond to external factors, increasing pride in place and boosting economic growth despite the pandemic. It is an approach that Historic England believes could achieve further success across England.

Historic England is continuing to focus on place and using the power of heritage to support positive change in local areas. We are currently developing a new framework, along with our partners, to share our experience and approach. Historic England will continue to use tools such as Heritage Action Zones to support communities in securing improvements for their place.

The Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson has announced that a new fund to support enhancements to our seaside heritage will be launched soon, which will be an opportunity for Historic England to build on the success and knowledge gained from our Heritage Action Zones programme.

Our high streets are the arteries which have provided the lifeblood of our communities down the ages. Each generation has left their mark on them, and the way we use them continues to change.

The brilliant High Street Heritage Action Zones have enabled people across the country to learn about the hidden histories of the buildings they pass every day, helping to shed light on the past, bring people together in the present, and inspire new ideas for the future.

Historic England has done brilliant work – with the support of the Government, and the involvement of local authorities, community trusts and arts organisations – to deliver this programme over the past four years, helping our high streets to spring back to life after the pandemic, and ensuring that they will remain at the heart of their communities for generations to come.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Arts and Heritage Minister