What is the role of arts and culture on the high street? On October 26th, Property X-Change brought together speakers from the Design Museum, Design Council, and UD Music for an open in-person event at the LightHouse & Gardens, kindly hosted by Hadley Property Group.

Josephine Chanter, Director of Audiences at the Design Museum, kicked off the discussion by talking about the museum’s recent relocation from the south bank of the river Thames to a site just off Kensington High Street. Since moving, the museum has attracted over 2 million visitors, substantially adding to the area’s overall footfall. One of Josephine’s main focus areas is to figure out how to make the most of this potential, ensuring that the museum is meaningfully connecting with its diverse audiences, including neighbours and local high street users.

This is by no means an easy task, as Josephine reports:

“I think it is important to be honest about the challenges. I don’t think we transformed the high street in the way that people thought bringing a huge museum into that space would. And I think that has partly to do with being able to set out a broader vision for the high street, where you have a lot of [competing interests].”

Over the past couple of years, Josephine and her team have collaborated with local community groups and artists to overcome these challenges and create more interaction between the high street and its cultural anchor, for example by installing temporary artworks in the public realm and setting up a community garden. Individually, these initiatives have brought positive experiences to the neighbourhood, while together they show what might be achieved with a more collaborative approach.

“I would love to work on creating an environment with the council that really enabled the museum to do more,” Josephine dreams, with several members of the audience nodding along, before handing over to Hazel Durrant.

Full panel with Frederik, Rumi, Josephine, and Hazel lined up left to right.
Left to right: Frederik, Rumi, Josephine, and Hazel. Credit: Nicole Gomes.

As Head of Operations at UD Music and a London Markets board member, Hazel Durrant is well-versed in talking about culture and town centre regeneration. More specifically, Hazel has been focused on youth culture, with an aim to help adolescents and young adults find creative opportunities in their local neighbourhood.

“The arts now is the most elitist sort of industry for somebody to get into. I think we need to get back to the basics when we look at how we’re developing the high street. What’s the offer going to be for that generation coming up? (…) It has to be that thread going all the way through, so that we’re meaningfully saying: ‘this is for you’.”

Using Westfield, a close neighbour to our event venue, as a positive example, Hazel points out the importance of creating welcoming and inclusive spaces, which bring “the whole world” together and combine shopping, leisure, and training or job offers. In fact, she maintains later on, we should always think about skills development alongside property activation.

Image of the Lighthouse from the outside with the event taking place inside.
The event was hosted by Hadley Property Group at the temporary venue The LightHouse & Gardens in Stratford. Credit: Nicole Gomes.

Taking a slightly wider view, Frederik Weissenborn, Programme Lead at the Design Council, shares insights about the underlying social and economic dynamics which shape the high street offer. With trends like online shopping and conscious consumerism, it is clear that the heyday of the high street as a pure shopping mecca has come to an end.

Asking “how do we reimagine our high streets in a way that generates value for local communities?”, Frederik implores us to look beyond financial notions of ‘value’ to unlock a greater breadth of opportunities for everyone involved. Thinking about the role of cultural institutions, it is clear that there is much to gain from taking a more holistic approach.

From this point on, the panel ventured into an open discussion, sharing questions, ideas, and experience with input from the audience.

Captive audience
The event had just over forty attendees from across the Property X-Change network.

Six key points emerged from this conversation:

  1. Be more porous; wherever possible, invite people in and spill out.
  2. Engage for life; young people who are engaged today become the community leaders of tomorrow.
    • “It is worth recognising that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done with communities to give them the agency they need to engage in these processes,” Frederik Weissenborn cautioned.
  3. Create open opportunities; like the story about the man (sic) who learns to fish, it is first and foremost about enabling the creation of arts and culture and letting people fill the space.
  4. Value beyond money; as the high street goes through a transition from a place of consumption to a place of community, new business models are required to underpin the resilience of the place.
    • “I don’t think anyone really gets into culture to make money. The business case is really tough, and you have good years and bad years. But I think the value that a museum, a cinema, a theatre, a music centre brings, is just life-affirming and enriching and that benefits the wider community so much,” said Josephine Chanter.
  5. Collaborate for collective impact; every need must be heard, especially when there is a rich diversity of voices.
    • “The best thing about high streets is that loads of people own little slivers of it, the worst thing about high streets is that loads of people own little slivers of it,” said Louise Duggan, Interim Head of Regeneration at the Greater London Authority.
  6. Be bolder and braver; the high street will no longer be served by maintaining the status quo. Instead, we need new, innovative ideas and brave champions to carry them forward.

Watch the full recording above and join our LinkedIn Group to share your own perspectives on the topic.


  • Hazel Durrant, UD Music
  • Josephine Chanter, Design Museum
  • Frederik Weissenborn, Design Council
  • Rumi Bose, RB Greenwich (moderator)


  • Hadley Property Group

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