Almost a year ago, I had a phone call from a civil servant at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He’d picked up on the work I’d done with artists and empty shops and wanted to know if it worked. When I proved that it did he asked how central government could help.

The answer, I said, was small grants not big interventions. Artists and arts groups could develop short-term, meanwhile projects on small budgets – using their local knowledge and understanding to leverage volunteer time, goodwill and additional resources. But small grants delivered quickly would ease the burden on those active individuals.

Earlier this year that department announced that 57 towns would receive £52,000 grants to support projects in empty shops. And today another 50 towns have received similar good news.

So the hundred worst hit towns in the country have the chance to fund projects on their high street and the funding could be used for cleaning, decorating derelict shop fronts or funding business rate relief.

All of those will have some impact – but only in the short term.

The Empty Shops Network has been collecting information, sharing ideas and bringing people together to explore innovation and creativity on the high street: community radio stations, interactive software on shop windows, theatre in fish and chip shops, micro community centres, mobile wi-fi workspaces. And these creativity-driven projects could have more long-term benefits, developing new use and kick-starting a new generation of businesses rather than just papering over the cracks in the existing model of high street use.

Best of all (well, in a bittersweet way I guess), my hometown of Worthing has received one of the latest round of grants. And our local authority’s chief exec Ian Lowrie opened the first Empty Shops Conference in October with a call for more local authorities to support groups like mine, the Revolutionary Arts Group. He actually argued (his words) for more revolutionary thinking. So we know he’ll be putting CLG’s money where his mouth is – and Worthing will be at the centre of a national movement which is reinventing the high street.

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