It is calculated that 14 shops a day close, never to re-open, on the British high street. Many of these shops are known as ‘multiple retailers’, i.e. the names we know and associate with town centre shopping. The increase in out of town and internet shopping is the death knell of the high street. A reasonable analysis of the problem was recently highlighted by the Portas Review.1 However, the appointment of Portas, a high-profile retail celebrity famous for quick fix, TV series-style solutions, is indicative of the lack of seriousness with which the UK government views this problem.
New shopping habits not only drain the vitality of the high street, they also increase carbon emissions, reduce levels of exercise and limit access to goods and services for those without transport or unable to use the internet, often the most vulnerable. It is estimated that vacancy rates on shops in parts of the UK currently stand at >30%. Many of these are small, one-person, shops in the high street and in the streets where people live and work. As essential centres for local social contact, their closures take with them the dreams and aspirations of their owners, and leave behind more social isolation, less mental well-being and a general decline in social cohesion.
Yet, despite the premises standing empty, the mail keeps arriving. The shop front window that once displayed the goods within now becomes a marker for failure as the mail continues to pile up yet is never collected. Scenarios like this can be found throughout the UK and, showing no signs of decreasing here, are increasingly seen in mainland Europe and the USA.
Photographer John Darwell has spent the last 2 years photographing these shops whenever he found them, carrying a small digital camera to allow for serendipity of coming upon yet another forlorn sight. His images become symbols of the current economic malaise and its disastrous effects on the individuals caught in its wake.