Leeds businesses offer 'inclusive' spaces in hard time for retail

Leeds’s main shopping street may be going through something of a rough patch – but business owners in the city argue that the inclusive and communal experience of such areas has much more to offer than the convenience of online retail.

Briggate in Leeds.
Briggate in Leeds.

Briggate has been blighted by a number of empty shops in recent years, with big names closing.

Four units are currently shut on the street, the city centre’s most prominent, including a former Vodafone branch and the previous Gap store. Previous victims have been H&M and American Apparel.

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Added to this is the area’s well-known issues with spice and other drug-taking, a problem which is a major cause of frustration for business owners.

James Greenhalgh quit his job as a civil servant to open Flamingos Coffee House in Central Arcade off Briggate, but since starting, anti-social behaviour surrounding his premises has got progressively worse. He previously spoke of how the issue was “killing off” business.

Yesterday he said: “We need to pay our bills and when we can’t pay our bills, we’re in trouble.”

He added: “Once you are inside here it’s a nice atmosphere and the food is good.”

The White Rose Centre in south Leeds is trying to draw in more customers with a high profile drive to develop what it offers. But Mr Greenhalgh thinks that such centres suffer from the same problems as the high streets. “Online is competing with us and they’re not paying business rates. That’s the thing that’s going to be killing off the high street.

“You don’t even have to get our of your pyjamas [to go shopping].”

He added: “You can get an experience coming into the city centre.”

People can also take in the museums and see events they “can’t do that sat in front of a 15-inch screen.”

Matters are not helped by issues on the region’s transport system. Andrew Cooper, Leeds Business Improvement District chief executive, said: “What is cause for real concern is the on-going rail strikes on Saturdays which are having a detrimental effect on consumer behaviour and businesses in the city centre week on week.”

LeedsBID and Leeds Chamber of Commerce have jointly written to rail operator Northern to highlight the economic impact.

The White Rose Centre, meanwhile, has become more community-focused.

Steven Foster, general manager, said: “White Rose also acts as a hub for the local community, with our daily mall-walking groups, The Point offering impartial careers advice, and family-friendly changing, feeding, and restrooms.

“We’ve also recently developed an autism-friendly guide to White Rose alongside Specialist Autism Services, offer a free Shopmobility service, and have worked with Leeds City Council to create a Changing Places facility for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It’s our aim to make White Rose as inclusive and friendly as possible.”