Gentrification’s NOT what we need…

I spend in excess of around 35 hours in Maidenhead High Street every week and have done so since what feels like the dawn of time. As part of Art on the Street, I’ve been running large-scale town centre events and pop-up projects for the best part of four years. I was one of a wonderful team of bolshy women who worked on Maidenhead’s Bid to be a Portas Pilot Town and after watching last nights ‘Mary Queen of the High Street’, I think we dodged a fucking bullet there.

I watched gobsmacked as Mary ran roughshod over the existing businesses on the Roman Road. Businesses that have are suffering from the lack of pride and disappointment that comes when you’ve given all your life to something and had your needs wholesale ignored by the people you’re paying cold hard cash to in order to exist. I didn’t see her nurture one single trader, preferring the ‘My Way or the Highway’ (read: do as your told, or get to fuck) approach. Forcing human-beings into uncomfortable corners in order to get the televisual money-shot.

I was in a meeting not so long ago where the topic of discussion was ‘what our High Street needs’. Like Mary Portas, the focus was on attracting the disposable income of those within the affluent ten-mile radius of Maidenhead.

We need bookshops!

And fishmongers!

Vintage clothes!

Art galleries!

Get rid of all those awful pound shops!

And BOOM! There it was. The crux of the matter. The people in my meeting believed it (even if they didn’t realise it at the time) just as Mary Portas does: Outprice the poor and naturally the town will prosper.

There is one clear and inarguable reason why this kind of attitude is a Very Bad Thing.

The pound shops exist in towns up and down the country for a reason. We are on the whole, as a nation completely fucking brassic. Normal common-or-garden people use pound shops, as they represent value for money to families on a budget. Whatever you think of them (and their tempting evil mega-bags of sweeties), they are an invaluable part of the weekly shop for a country fucktonne of people.

By creating an environment that alienates these shoppers, you’re fucked before you’ve even begun. The key to creating a High Street that bustles is that it has something for everyone. And Mary’s right on one thing – that’s why market trading is so important.

Market trading is not Mary Portas’ invention, despite what she would have you think. It is and always has been the natural response to how ‘fuck me, REALLY?’ expensive bricks and mortar trading is. When people ask me why there are no new shops opening, I give them the maths – things you need to have in place before you even open the door:

  • Average Maidenhead High Street Rental: £40k per year and upwards.
  • Business Rates in Maidenhead average about 50% of valuation.
  • Staff costs
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Business Services

As the reality starts to dawn on them JUST how expensive it is to run a shop, I drop the bomb: “I haven’t even mentioned stock yet.”

Is it any wonder that entrepreneurs are taking to the streets more than ever? And these bloody hard-working people rock out into the arsebiting cold to sell great goods to EVERYONE at prices that aren’t unreasonably inflated by business rates. They are the great leveller in our towns because everyone loves the atmosphere that market traders create. They prove that the key to success in High Streets is embracing the community that uses it. And that means everyone. Even the cunts.

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