Boutique owner Paul Turner-Mitchell celebrates a project which brings individual High Streets more money than the much-headlined Portas programme
When Jamie Oliver opened 15, his trailblazing restaurant that works with unemployed young people, he said he wanted to use the magic of food to give his new recruits the chance to have a better future.
It’s been long overdue, but this concept is now being extended to high streets all over the UK, where the magic of retail is being used to tackle youth unemployment.
Run by volunteering group vInspired and the Retail Trust, Retail Ready People has already made its mark on Brighton and Enfield, with a 12-week programme that brings together 16-25 year olds and trains them to deliver a pop up shop on their high street.
Now it’s being delivered outside the M25 for the first time with the programme heading north to run in Rochdale and Leeds early next year.
The partnership between the trust – the only charity that looks after the needs of people working in retail – and vInspired, whose strapline is ‘opportunities for young people to do good things’, is a smart move. Rochdale’s MP Simon Danczuk, a regular Guardian Northerner writer who is a keen supporter of the scheme, says they’re “leading a quiet revolution to help young people get a stake on the high street”, and he’s not wrong.
In Rochdale, youth unemployment and empty shops are serious problems. Like many northern towns our high street faces multiple challenges; stalled regeneration, tough trading conditions and a squeeze on consumer spending to name a few. Youth unemployment has increased by over 70 per cent in the last year and is among the highest in the country.
Realising that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two and that empty shops and young people in search of work can be tackled by making the high street an experimental test-bed of opportunity is where Retail Ready People comes into its own.
You only have to look at the eagerness and excitement among the youngsters working at the first pop up pilot in Brighton, where Jack Black dropped by to give them his backing incidentally, to realise that instead of letting empty shops gather dust we should be providing more opportunities like this.
That Retail Ready People actually invest more money into these programmes than the £100,000 allocated to each of the Government’s much-vaunted Portas Pilot schemes has quietly slipped by most people following high street policy. Much of this investment goes into identifying a group of 30 young people and training and nurturing them to deliver a business.
It’s this personal touch, taking youngsters away on residential courses and building up their confidence and skills that I value most. Essentially it’s an intense mentoring programme and this is what all budding entrepreneurs need most.
Every successful businessman or woman has had a mentor; everyone needs someone to talk to and bounce ideas off, someone you go to for advice, someone you trust to guide you in the right direction.
Warren Buffet had Ben Graham, Plato had Socrates. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. All great mentors. And embedding this into an entrepreneurial fabric for youngsters is what can turn high streets blighted by empty shops into a gateway of opportunity.
Developing these kind of programmes, ensuring that knowledge is passed on and inspiration shared is critical to foster the kind of retail culture we need to build sustainable high streets.
High streets all across the country are currently going through what might be euphemistically described as a difficult transition. Old tried and tested business models are buckling. What was once the ingredients for success now seems a recipe for failure. There has never been a greater need for fresh blood, new ideas and a healthy supply of young retailers for the future.
Young people these days have all kinds of career dreams. But some still dream of opening their own fashion boutique one day. I know because they tell me. In a matter of months, Retail Ready People will be helping dreams like this come true in Rochdale. And why not? After all, when a group of people that came to be known as the Rochdale Pioneers opened a small shop with just five basic items in 1844 they too were following a dream. And look what they achieved.
To express an interest in joining Rochdale or Leeds’ Retail Ready Programme visit: http://vinspired.com/retailreadypeople
Paul Turner-Mitchell owns Rochdale’s 25 Ten boutique, writes columns for Drapers and Retail Week and contributed to Mary Portas’ high street review. Last month on the Guardian Northerner he invited Ed Miliband to work for a day in the Rochdale shop. The Labour leader is considering it