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Brand consultant calls for rent and lease shake-up to revive Stamford high street with pop-up shops and more independent retailers

A brand expert who wants to set up a pop-up shop in Stamford believes high rents and long-term leases are stopping new businesses from hitting our high street.

Francesca Gamble is calling on landlords and the council for a change of mindset and practice to help bring life to empty shop units.

Francesca, who works as a brand consultant in London, moved to Stamford at the start of the year and is keen to open a lifestyle store selling independent brands, alongside a wellbeing space for yoga and talks.

Francesca Gamble is calling for more flexibility in shop leases to open up opportunities for pop-up shops
Francesca Gamble is calling for more flexibility in shop leases to open up opportunities for pop-up shops

But after enquiries with several estate agents, she has been unable to find the short-term lease of three to six months her business model requires.

“At the moment you have to sign a 10-year lease and in the current climate who is going to do that?,” she said.

“We need to move away from long-term leases. This strategy was already dying years ago and the pandemic has highlighted this further.

Stamford High Street pictured earlier this year
Stamford High Street pictured earlier this year

“It was killing independent retailers and the property owners were, and still are, the only one’s winning here.”

Andrew Leech, commercial partner at Richardson Estate Agents, said private landlords were more likely to be amenable to shorter leases, but they would not make financial sense for properties owned by pension funds or larger interests.

"A private landlord would do a fairly simple licence, but a property company would be less likely to do so because of the insurance costs to pass on to tenants and the legal costs to set it all up.

"What landlords don't want is to spend a lot of money for a short-term arrangement that they won't get much revenue from."

Francesca has helped clients set up pop-ups across London as landlords there look to ease the mounting number of empty premises.

She believes new ideas here are falling on deaf ears and a change of mentality is needed to help save the high street.

“I’ve been shocked by the lack of independent shops and the number of units empty,” she added.

“Pop-up shops have already been identified as the future to physical retail. This isn’t a new concept, but it is for towns like Stamford.

“Creating more opportunities for mass market shops doesn’t fit the DNA of this historic town.

“I want to support the council to change their strategy and build a sustainable future with high quality independent shops at the heart."

Richard Olsen, chairman of Stamford Chamber of Commerce, said Stamford did not appear to have a high number of empty units.

However, he believed new ideas were needed to reinvigorate the 'delicate' state of the high street, such as potentially breaking up vacant large stores into smaller units.

"Landlords with vacant premises need to think of different models to fill their voids, but ultimately the ownership of many high street premises is via large corporations or pension funds and getting to the right people isn’t easy," he said.

"The government could do more in this regards with some radical thinking."

South Kesteven District Council did help help several creative businesses set up in the high street after securing a short-term lease on a Stamford retail property through its economic development company InvestSK.

Kelham Cooke, Leader of SKDC, said there had been a small increase in empty units in Stamford after the most recent lockdown, but that most had been taken on full leases.

"While this quick turnaround is testimony to the strength of the Stamford retail market it does mean the chances to secure short-term pop-up provision are extremely limited," he said.

He added: "There is no doubting pop-up shops are a good way for a new business to test the market before committing to leasing a retail premises longer term,"

"As it stands the lease arrangements on these units are solely down to the individual property owners and it is in their best interests to secure the most favourable lease arrangements possible, this often to the detriment of people looking for a short-term, cost-effective way onto the high street."

To contact InvestSK, e-mail business@investsk.co.uk or call 01476 406374.

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