In a summer of despairing headlines about retail in the high street, what do those who use them think about their future? To find out, a series of workshops in five towns brought together those who use, live, work, do business, shop, have fun, or manage high streets. The workshops were commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and were led by the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and supported by the university's policy think-tank, Metropolis.

Holmfirth, Altrincham, Bristol and Shrewsbury were the four of the towns chosen for the workshops. All workshops were facilitated by local IPM members, Margaret Dale (Holmfirth), Penny Bell and Elizabeth Faulkner (Altrincham), Jason Thorne, Keith Rundle and Jo Hawkins (Bristol) and Seb Slater and Aleks Vladimirov (Shrewsbury). The workshops looked at work already done and planned to make each town centre better and heard about what the latest research said about the changing high street, but the main part of the workshop focused on hearing from those who use the high street in some way.

A fifth event took place around the Teenage Market in Bolton, with the help of the market's co-founder and IPM member Joe Barrat. Here young stallholders and customers took part in the discussions.

What did they think of the changes that have happened? What challenges have they faced? What would make it better? What kind of high street do they see in the future? What should be done to make high streets and town centres more popular?

The workshops generated insight that was fed back directly back to the Ministry. The findings will also be shared with the Expert Panel recently appointed by Minister for the High Street, Jake Berry, to diagnose issues that currently affect the health of our high streets and advise on the best practical measures to help them thrive now and in the future,

Members of the Expert Panel attended the workshops, the Chair, Sir John Timpson, said

"Throughout my career, high streets and city centres have continually changed to fulfil the needs of society.  The panel cannot offer an instant, quick fix, solution but the workshops helped identify practical and common sense decisions that will help the government provide the support that local communities and businesses need to provide the leisure and shopping facilities people will want from now.”

Dr Steve Millington, the Principal Researcher who led the workshops explained why the sessions were a useful contribution to the current knowledge of the high street

“There is a lot of research and reports on high streets now. We know from our own work that not all places are not all the same. Some are doing better than others. Often the people that make the difference are left out of the story. The people that shop on the high street, the people that live and work there, the ones that try and work together to make a difference do not always get their voices heard"

The workshops took place throughout August and September.

“We are very pleased to have had the chance to host one of these workshops” said Margaret Dale, from Keep Holmfirth Special, who hosted the first workshop. “We have worked hard together with residents and retailers in our town centre to make a number of improvements in recent years, but we recognise that we need to keep changing and this workshop has really helped us put our priorities in order and share our experiences with policy-makers, so they can help us.”

The locations were chosen to illustrate different approaches to high street revitalisation and different challenges.