Original article from Kent Live
Empty shops in Kent are set to become classrooms in a bid to revive struggling high streets following the coronavirus pandemic.
Margate School is amongst dozens of schools, colleges and universities across the country taking over empty commercial units to breathe some life back into UK high streets.
The school purchased the former Woolworths store, which has stood empty for more than a decade, and turned it into a theatre and exhibition space.
The site has retained its original Woolworths signage but has been given a classier black and white exterior.
Other educational establishments have been converting empty stores in laboratories, lecture theatres and seminar rooms.
The properties are proving hard to fill due to their size and the struggles facing retailers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, so schools have been capitalising on the chance to snap-up them up.
This comes as figures last week from property information firm CoStar Group revealed more than eight out of 10 department stores have shut in the five years since the collapse of BHS.
Analysis showed over two-thirds of those shops remain shut, with nearly 240 standing empty.
It tracked some of the biggest department chains, from BHS and Beales to Debenhams and House of Fraser, from 2016 to the present day.
Another shop repurposed for education is Debenhams in the heart of Gloucester.
The city’s university bought the store and is refurbishing the 1930s Art Deco building into a teaching campus with 20,000 square meters of space over five floors.
Where once shoppers trawled the aisles, the space will soon be filled with students and teachers.
Vice Chancellor Stephen Marston said: “We’re delighted our plans will help breathe new life and purpose into a place that is central to the city’s heritage.”
He said the conversion could “make a major contribution to creating a better future for our community.”
Elsewhere, the Tamworth Co-op’s historic department store recently closed – most of the building is due to be knocked down and replaced, in part, with an arts college.
Other institutions are drawing up similar plans, promising to boost centres blighted by empty shops.
The University of Manchester has announced it is part of a £1.5billion plan to develop a business district in the heart of the city.
In Bridgend, South Wales, the council plans to redesign the town centre to include moving Bridgend College into the centre.
The University of Worcester aims to convert a former newspaper office in the heart of the city.
And reports say the University of Oxford has looked at the local Debenhams store.
The trend comes as experts say town and city centres will need to consider a host of different uses for physical stores, given a big shift in shopping habits.
The coronavirus pandemic has hastened the demise of many stores chains, leading to a wave of closures.
Fashion chain Gap became the latest to announce a call by confirming 19 store closures in the UK and Ireland.
Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, pledged to invest more into Britain's high streets, during a visit to Tunbridge Wells last week.
Various reviews have also called for an overhaul of planning laws to encourage shops to be used for housing, health or community projects.