In 2011 the government commissioned retail expert Mary Portas to conduct an independent  review of the high street’s future. The Portas Review identified the need to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, well-being, creativity and learning as well as places that will develop and sustain new and existing markets and businesses. High Streets should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping is just one part of a rich mix of activities. The new high streets won’t just be about selling goods.

Following the review, the government and the GLA made £2.7m available to run a series of pilots trialling her recommendations.

A dedicated group of volunteers working together across Sydenham, Forest Hill and Kirkdale prepared a bid to revitalise the high street and were one of 27 successful Portas Pilots, winning a grant for £80,000 in the second round of bidding on 25 July 2012. SEE3 was born and has since been set up as a company limited by guarantee.

The GLA funding was matched with £100,000 funding from the Phase Two development of Bell Green and a further £15,000 from the High Street Innovation Fund, resulting in a total budget of £195,000.

The Forest Hill, Sydenham and Kirkdale Portas bid 

The SEE3 bid outlined a vision of a high-street where established independent traders are an integral part of the community, new traders bring innovation and further quality, boundaries between retail, culture and community blur, energy of active citizens is harnessed, new ideas are championed and space that is secured for start-up enterprises to develop is readily accessible.

SEE3 seeks to create a string of destinations that are complementary, harnessing the distinct and unique character of the individual offers under a shared vision. The five key objectives of the bid were as follows:

  • to test a coherent approach to High Street development in an area of urban sprawl where one neighbourhood merges into another.
  • to increase the sustainability of the High Street through layering uses.
  • to build on the existing blending of retail and community use to enhance the High Street as a Hub Street and cultural destination.
  • to create a fit, agile High Street that can successfully adapt to changing needs.
  • to harness and build on our strong active citizenship to enhance the High Street

The SEE3 pilot comprised three key projects to test this ambition:

Jack and Jill. Two high street shops (one in Sydenham, the other in Forest Hill) were to be renovated for creative community engagement via exhibitions, showcasing local products, business workshops, pop up events and use as a Town Team base. They were to be used to engender a sense of place and gather details of people’s current shopping habits and their ambitions for the High Street.

The Shop Revolution. A high impact project with lasting sustainable benefits, Shop Revolution introduced landlords and leaseholders to the concept of ‘meanwhile’ use – short term leases which keep the unit in use between tenants. A number of vacant units were refurbished and let to an eclectic mix of businesses and organisations on a pop up or trial basis giving new businesses the chance to test their business skills.

Market Makers. More than a market, this built on the success of the Girton Road car boot sale and the Forest Hill Food Fair to pilot offerings in Sydenham, Forest Hill and Kirkdale with the aim of finding long term tenants for our vacant units. By giving traders the opportunity to test market demand for their offering, they will be able to refine their business plan before committing to a long term lease.

In addition to these three main projects, the pilot also sought to improve signage, encourage people to shop locally and provide support to get more businesses online.

The Town Team was made up of volunteers from the local area, including businesses, residents, community groups and other persons interested in making the SEE3 project a success and continues to evolve after the Portas funding has run out; new members are always welcome. The successful bid was steered by a group of people comprising local businesses, amenity societies and elected Councillors which continued as an interim Core Group to get the pilot started.


Contact Details

For further information, contact info@see3.co.uk

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