The U3A High Street project was originally designed, in 2018, to research and report on the history and current state of shops in each U3A’s local area. Local groups would then be able to identify trends and speculate on what the future might hold for their High Street.
The project was ‘ready to go’ by March last year, but then of course it was derailed by the arrival of Covid-19, which meant that no on site survey work could be done. By July, it was decided that a national survey was achievable in September, and I went out and photographed all the premises on Hucknall High Street near the end of the month. All the photos, along with descriptions of the use of each frontage, have now been uploaded to the national database. The thinking was that it was a good time for the snapshot; as well as being ‘legal’ to be out and about, it was before the end of the first furlough scheme, after which it was thought that more shop closures would be likely. There are currently some 20,000 premises on the database.
114 individual U3As took part, and a progress report went to the U3A Board last month. This was followed by a national Zoom session for all those who took part, and it was going well until it went slightly wrong, which will be a consolation to all of us who have encountered all sorts of glitches when using Zoom!
The plan is to resurvey all the High Streets during this September and then produce a final report in 2022, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the U3A. As well as producing a comprehensive national baseline of High Streets, it is hoped that individual U3As will be encouraged to run spin-off projects in their own areas. Examples so far include producing new ‘Town Trail’ leaflets and ‘Urban Sketching’ in Manchester. I was pleased to learn from the Zoom session that the East Midlands is well represented, with 69 members of 33 U3As taking part.
For anyone interested, the new Progress report is on the national U3A website.