Open letter: Across the UK our high streets are struggling. Footfall is dropping.

Commentators are quick to blame the rise of internet shopping, but the reality is much more complex. “Last mile” transport is too often failing us, public toilets have closed and businesses and planners have failed to recognise how the high street customer is changing and – crucially – ageing.

As high street retail has declined, we have failed to create a viable new offer.

There is a lack of shared spaces for all ages on the high street, resulting in underused and financially unsustainable services.

The night-time economy is recognised as a growth opportunity. But that opportunity will only be maximised if we’re responsive to our changing demography and adapting the offer accordingly.

Parts of the retail sector have historically undervalued the commercial opportunity of older people but things are changing. The introduction of “relaxed checkouts”, more seating areas, as well as welcoming in the “Chatty Café” will all play their part – we need to see more of this.

A revitalised high street can help reduce loneliness, improve our health and even deliver more housing. If we make the high street work for older people it will also work for younger people.

The death of our high street is not inevitable. In fact, there is indeed a major economic opportunity from our ageing world. New ILC research to be published at the Future of Ageing conference tomorrow will show how increased spending by older people will be driven not just by their growing numbers, but also by increased spending per head among this group.

That said, blind optimism will not deliver a longevity dividend for the UK. Business has a responsibility to lead. But they can’t do it alone. Central and local government policy must support them to understand and respond to the needs of an ageing population if our high streets are to thrive.


David Sinclair, ILC-UK; Deborah Alsina MBE, Independent Age; Jane Ashcroft, Anchor Hanover; Yvonne Sonsino, Mercer; Jane Vass, Age UK; Stephen Burke, United for all Ages; Prof Paul Higgs, University College London; Jackie Mulligan, ShopAppy; Jilly Forster, Forster Communications; Nick Freeth, Retirement Homesearch