Many people have taken the nourishment of their physical and mental health increasingly seriously during lockdown. 

Barr Gazetas

Greater importance than ever has been placed on exercise, wellbeing and healthy eating, while participation in crafting and making has also surged as the mental health benefit of a simple task, skill or goal has become more apparent. This sense of personal fulfilment will have a place in the post-lockdown world.

So, as high street retail suffers, we propose an inclusive and experiential alternative: ‘The Department of Health’, a destination that provides public spaces and facilities where people can engage in different physical and mentally fulfilling activities, supported by the expertise of onsite small-scale manufacturers and retailers.

Post-1930s department stores are usually poorly lit, deep-plan boxes with a central atrium and spaces out of scale for alternative uses. We propose a series of pre-fabricated structures that act as live/work incubator units for small manufacturers, with residential balconies and a retail frontage on to the central atrium.

The mental health benefit of a simple task or skill has become more apparent

These units will be offered at affordable rents linked to the delivery of Section 106 requirements for other schemes. Introducing diversity of uses into the building will also help drive income. The units and tenants will be curated by the developer as with the department store concession model.

In return for reduced rents, incubator tenants will provide tutoring and masterclasses to the paying public, in everything from jewellery-making to acupuncture. Bookable public access facilities such as workshops, pottery firing, allotments, kitchens, treatment rooms and exercise studios will also support incubator tenants, pooling resources and encouraging collaboration.

An internal central street will emerge around the atrium that will become a marketplace for incubator tenants’ services, products and food offers. This marketplace will have a ground-floor presence, and will sit alongside external facing workshops and studios that will provide active frontage to the high street, advertising the activities inside and diversifying the high street experience.

We believe the future of department stores is not free of retail, but a depth of experience is required through public interaction that will keep those stores relevant as physical destinations.