As you battle your way through the crowds of shoppers and endure the winding cues it€™s easy to forget the extreme pressure the retail sector is under this Christmas. One part of it in particular is really suffering and has been for years now. It is of course the UK€™s town centres and the endangered high streets.

Amidst the gloom of shop closures and what commentators are darkly calling the €œDeath of the High Street€ Taunton stands out from the crowd for the right reasons. Although many retailers are struggling and shops have had to shut down, a truly innovative approach is being to taken to try to re-let shops quickly. The hope is that this new approach will help Taunton dodge the vicious circle of shop closures leading to general decline and ultimately will result in a stronger and more sustainable town centre.

Starting back in the Autumn this year, all retail premises in the town centre that become vacant are being given a marketing boost thanks to the €˜Blank Canvas€™ scheme. The term was chosen as it is a by word for a fresh start with endless opportunities and that if you think positively is what an empty shop offers.

The usual €˜To Let€™ or €˜For Sale€™ signs are still there but they are now accompanied by a pretty radical new look. Chipboard shutters and white painted windows are well and truly out. In their place are full vinyl window graphics in bright colours. Some have a photo of what a shop there could look like e.g. a florist. Others have a list of ideas of what the shop could be used for in the future. A bookshop? A stationers? A clothes shop? The town centre€™s empty retail premises now look positive and inviting to passers by, motorists and potential future tenants. In short they are actively promoting themselves instead of waving the white flag of surrender.

Who is behind this? Taunton Town Centre Company is at the helm with Teapot Creative alongside them on the bridge. We love jobs that get us out and about into the community and offer us the chance to unleash the power of design on people. I’ve overseen the installation of all of the Blank Canvas projects so far and seen first hand the transformation they undergo. This is such a worthwhile project and the Teapot team and I are very proud to be playing a major role in it.

We keep being asked when are other towns and cities going to follow us with their own version of the Blank Canvas project. We don€™t have an answer I€™m afraid but with Taunton leading the way it hopefully won€™t be long before the initiative catches on elsewhere. The sooner the better we say because the race to save the UK€™s high streets is on and there is no time to waste.

If you want to see some more photos of the Blank Canvas project in action around Taunton then head over to our Facebook page & check out the Teapot Creative portfolio album.

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