Dewsbury Arcade: How a 'no takeaways, vape shops or nail bars' policy could revive a struggling Yorkshire town centre's retail offer

A restored Victorian shopping arcade in a struggling Yorkshire town centre will only welcome independent traders willing to work together to ensure its revival.

Dewsbury Arcade, which closed in 2016, has been derelict for eight years, but Kirklees Council stepped in to buy the 19th-century building and a Community Benefit Society has now formed to raise funds to bring it back to life.

The eight committee members – all of them with a strong stake in the town centre’s fortunes – are determined that the refurbished retail units will be a vape shop, nail bar and takeaway-free zone, and instead leased to boutiques, cafes and restaurants that offer something different.

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The Arcade will become a destination for more than just browsing, with an events programme involving all tenants and their businesses helping to draw in visitors.

Dewsbury Arcade shortly before its closure, when decline had set inDewsbury Arcade shortly before its closure, when decline had set in
Dewsbury Arcade shortly before its closure, when decline had set in

Built in 1899, the arcades were one of Dewsbury’s jewels and thrived during the heyday of the local woollen industry. Even as recently as 2007, a private company paid ‘top dollar’ for the site before the recession began a spiral of doom that culminated in empty shops, poor footfall and absentee landlords. Since the council purchase, Dewsbury Arcade has become the UK’s first community-owned shopping centre, and will be run and managed by the committee in the future.

Development director Chris Hill, one of those who has volunteered to drive the project, admits that Dewsbury has reached new lows in terms of its retail offer – and hopes the Arcade restoration can kickstart a wider resurgence.

"There are eight of us, and we’re all owners of small local businesses, including shops and a pub. We’ve been meeting informally since 2020, before the CBS was formed. We’re all motivated to lift the town up. It’s depressed – Boots and Wilkos have just left. But it’s a beautiful Victorian centre with great assets. We hope this can be a springboard.”

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Mr Hill believes that the kebab shops and vape stores have contributed to a ‘vicious circle’ that sees shoppers avoid the centre and landlords refuse to invest in buildings.

The Arcade's imposing Victorian entranceThe Arcade's imposing Victorian entrance
The Arcade's imposing Victorian entrance

"There’s not much of a reason to go there right now. We want to create a cycle of optimism, and bring businesses together.

"Landlords weren’t putting money into the Arcade before its closure. Rents were high, the gutters were leaking. It was not a good place to be. It went downhill very quickly.

"People don’t come into town to gamble in betting shops and buy vapes. We need interesting shops and more food and drink places. There’s nowhere to eat in Dewsbury now.”

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So far, the signs are positive. There have been around 45 informal expressions of interest in the units, including the four larger ones that the steering group feared may be difficult to let. Studios have been earmarked for artists, but the management is open to a number of uses, and traditional offices may become a co-working space. Hospitality businesses are welcome alongside retailers.

Hull's Paragon Arcade is a model that the Dewsbury committee wish to followHull's Paragon Arcade is a model that the Dewsbury committee wish to follow
Hull's Paragon Arcade is a model that the Dewsbury committee wish to follow

"We want people who are willing to work together and form a collective spirit. They need to have a strong online presence, and be event-focused – to want to do things, not just sit behind a counter.

"Our model is the Paragon Arcade in Hull, and we’d like to align with it. It’s not community-owned, but has been developed by a passionate individual and is really interesting with a lot of events going on. We want to gather supporters.”

The timeline is for the Arcade to re-open at Easter 2025, after a full-scale renovation that will highlight its Victorian features. A Crowdfunder has launched with a seemingly ambitious £150,000 target, and although only £12,000 has been pledged so far, Mr Hill points out that there are opportunities for match-funding.

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Kirklees Council will contribute £25,000 once the £75,000 mark is hit, and there are hopes the Co-operatives UK organisation will match all that is collected. Only £38,000 is actually needed to get the project moving, once existing donations are taken into account.

"We’ve got three of four larger sponsors in the pipeline, and we are optimistic that we will meet the target. We are very keen to encourage people to buy £50 shares.”

To support the Crowdfunder, click here.