The Arcade in Dewsbury will show the benefits of people-powered regeneration - Peter Mason

Dewsbury has one of the most beautiful Victorian town centres in the country. We have tremendous architecture, heritage assets and history, including The Arcade. But, like many other towns up and down the UK, shops have closed due to online shopping, squeezed household budgets, rising rents and sometimes poor management.

We want to bring The Arcade back to its former glory, at the heart of the town centre and a social meeting place that fits in with modern lifestyles. It’s now time for something new, something different that hasn’t been tried before. It’s time for people-powered regeneration.

Dewsbury Arcade will, we believe, be the first community-run shopping arcade in the country. With a vibrant mix of independent retail and leisure outlets, spaces for artists and creatives and room for community events and get-togethers that make Dewsbury a place to come to.

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This is why we are proud to launch the campaign to give the local community and businesses of Dewsbury a chance to be a part of that future.

The Arcade in Dewsbury is a Grade II-listed Victorian shopping arcade. PIC: Jonathan GawthorpeThe Arcade in Dewsbury is a Grade II-listed Victorian shopping arcade. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
The Arcade in Dewsbury is a Grade II-listed Victorian shopping arcade. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The Arcade Group is a group of volunteers from the local community who want to see the town centre thrive again – with The Arcade acting as the beating heart of Dewsbury once again. An Arcade that will be a springboard for young entrepreneurs, be a mix of retail, activity and culture, work with other Dewsbury projects and keep the money local. A crowdfunding campaign is now underway and will run for the next few weeks to raise funds to ensure The Arcade can have a sustainable future.

The Arcade has been vacant since 2016 following several years of declining footfall and investment. Kirklees Council bought the space in 2020 with the aim to halt any further decline of the building and a successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund will see £4.5m awarded to fully refurbish The Arcade.

The Arcade Group will take a ten-year lease from the Council once refurbishment work is complete and is fundraising a target of £150,000 to finance the business.

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As part of the fundraising campaign, shares are being offered in The Arcade Group and following the refurbishment, shareholders will own and control the businesses, having a say in how The Arcade is run, level of rent costs and what kind of businesses can trade in The Arcade.

This is where The Arcade Group stepped in with a proposal inspired by the original 19th Century Dewsbury Pioneers. It is founded on the belief that spaces must reconnect with the old concepts of community and togetherness to succeed in the world of the internet age. The current Fourth Industrial Revolution is a move towards Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Big Data which move our world even more into existence “on the cloud”. The social challenge we face is to create the new structures which will adapt to the reality of the new technology and the modern world but empower communities to take back control of their town centres. The idea of going out to the shop, filling up your trolley and driving home is disappearing. People want to meet, learn, create, develop and eat and drink together as well as purchasing items. The social dynamics actually remain the same as ever. We are social animals.

The Arcade Group has based the vision on what is needed in town centres, including the principles of experience, engagement and community from Mary Portas.

The aim is to have a wide variety of local businesses involved from the start to make The Arcade a showcase for everything good about the area, as well as increasing footfall and activity in the town centre by holding community events and celebrations too.

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The Arcade is made up of 16 small shops, 4 large end units, 8 studios and office workspace. We want it full of interesting businesses, new to Dewsbury. Not take-aways, nail bars and vape shops.

We will fix the rents and choose the sort of tenants we want, make sure The Arcade is full and reinvest profits in the business. We will build back Dewsbury town centre in the only way possible – from the bottom up, with the backing of local people.

The Arcade holds a fond place in many people’s memories, and we want to make it a major part of Dewsbury’s future too. Built in 1899 The Arcade has been a popular town centre thoroughfare for over a century with many recalling long-closed independent businesses from years gone by, like The Little Sweet Shop or Auty’s record shop. We’ve been really encouraged with the support so far, including at a packed launch event, and lots of positivity from all generations around the project and the future of the town. People can become shareholders from £50 and we want as many people as possible to join our journey and help to transform Dewsbury. The fundraising page was launched on October 12.

Peter Mason is a board member of The Arcade Group and a Dewsbury business owner.