A GROUP of artists have come up with a proposal to use empty shops across Bradford and West Yorkshire as arts and community spaces to revive the region’s dying high streets in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rather than having buildings stand empty, the group Amplify West Yorkshire propose every town in West Yorkshire should have a large shop or office space in a central area given over to local artists and community partners to create a cultural hub on a minimum three-year rolling contact.

The plans are laid out to the first West Yorkshire Mayor in May in a proposal document which is also supported by regional democracy think tank Same Skies.

Corinne Furness, a group member and PHD researcher at University of Leeds studying community arts in empty shops, said: “This established model has been used extensively over the last 15 years. Groups of artists and small organisations occupy temporarily unoccupied spaces such as shops or offices, transforming them into community hubs, workshops, galleries, museums and theatres.”

There have already been many successful examples, including Speaker's Corner at Ivegate in Bradford, Brick Box's Wild Woods on Darley Street in Bradford and Keighley Creative and Small World' Photo Hub in Keighley.

However, the current model has its limits. It requires enormous amounts of energy and labour from artists to transform the spaces, build audiences and grow communities around them. When artists are asked to leave, sometimes with as little as one week’s notice, much of this work is lost. The process has to begin again from scratch in a new location.

Laura Brooks, director of Bradford Fringe and member of the group, said: “We all want to see more activity in our town centres. These spaces should allow a mix of uses. There might be artist studios or workspaces, performance and gallery spaces, rooms for general use or office spaces. Artists want an area where they can work from, create from and perform in.

"I don't think our high streets will come back in the same way, so we'd like to re-imagine these empty shops to become a hub of activity for everyone.”

“We need to think big” said Bradford artist Mussarat Rahman, director of Intercultured Festival and a group member. “There is no lack of imagination or those willing to try out new ways of celebrating life and culture, but there is a lack of resources to sustain ideas and enhance collaboration.

"It's best to take over these empty spaces and see what we can do.Shops lying dormant are a wasted opportunity..”