Dozens of familiar retail stores across England and Wales, including Homebase, River Island and William Hill, have been converted into climate emergency centers – community centers “for the sake of the people and of the planet ”- after changes in shopping habits or the disappearance of the Covid pandemic sit them empty.
As hundreds of councils declare a climate emergency, owners of vacant space have the opportunity to reduce their corporate rate payments by up to 100% by leasing the property for the benefit of the community to a non-profit or charity, such as a climate emergency. center (CEC).
The sustainable centers are run by the communities themselves and offer a range of activities that aim to both tackle the climate emergency and bring people together, from hedgehog protectors to religious groups. They include art exhibitions, exercise classes, sustainable living workshops, bicycle repair facilities, and vegetarian and vegan cafes.
A handful of these centers are already operational and have found ways to stay open during the pandemic following risk assessments to ensure they are secured by Covid. Others hope to hold big openings in the coming months as the company opens up more.
Some of the empty stores that have already been picked up for use as a climate emergency center or are under negotiation include a former William Hill betting shop, a River Island, a Debenhams and a Homebase.
Pete Phoenix and Ruth Allen, two of the organizers of the Climate Emergency Centers, are encouraging as many community groups as possible to establish centers to revitalize often dying shopping streets to help both people and the planet.
Phoenix said, “When it comes to the climate emergency, the whole world is on fire. Besides trying to protect the planet, people are in desperate need of community and connection after the year we’ve had. These centers bring together the energy of the young and the wisdom of the elders. “
Vanessa Kane, a youngster and community worker who is one of the organizers of a climate emergency center in Staines, Surrey, at a former William Hill betting shop that has been renamed Talking Tree, said the project had allowed him to pursue his two passions of environment and community.
She put together a list of activities the climate emergency center would offer – from a vegetarian cafe “with vegan aspirations” to sewing, gardening, a recharge store and bike repair.
“We have 34 volunteers. Anyone can come and help. This is something that people who were fired during the pandemic might want to get involved in and can help the mental health of people as well as the planet.
Tristan Strange is working on converting a former River Island in Swindon into a climate emergency center.
“It’s a huge and beautiful place and it’s still in good shape,” he said. “We hope to sign the lease in the next few days and get the keys by May 16. I am amazed at how quickly everything fell into place. We want to stop wasting and offer a range of activities – everyone from Friends of the Earth, soil groups and hedgehogs to musicians, furniture renovators and church groups are involved.
For Linda Lowrance, who is working on opening a renowned base in Ilford, the centers are a win-win. “There’s really no downside to that,” she says. “After lockdown centers like these encourage people to come back and feel safe on Main Street again. If you have a hundred people going in and out of one of these centers, that will help the neighboring business as well.
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer, of the Hadley Property Group, which will redevelop the old Homebase store for housing and other uses, said his company had meanwhile given a local community group a lease to operate a CEC until what the redevelopment work begins.
“This is our first climate emergency center,” he said. It’s a huge space – almost 40,000 square feet, so people can stay socially distant at events. There are exercise classes, upcycling groups and workshops, eco-solutions exhibitions… the list keeps growing.
Bob Littlewood, the Labor adviser with the seven kings center of the redeveloped base’s climate emergency center, welcomed him with open arms.
“It’s a way of developing community cohesion and giving the community a voice. I think it’s bread from heaven. This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in Seven Kings, ”he said.