After the Shop, Pt 2: Adapting Coney Street for the Future

The interior of WH Smith on Coney Street, with the 18th building facade in the upper portion of the atrium.

The WHSmith building on Coney Street is, perhaps, winner of the ‘biggest surprise on Coney Street’ award (with second place going to the carp - see A Healthy Heart to the City). Actually, the secret is very open. You can explore for yourself the townhouses so neatly conserved amongst the pens - just go into the atrium in the middle of the store, turn to face the main entrance door, and look up! You may find yourself exclaiming, "How have I never noticed this before?!" On the first floor, you can also find a retained fireplace, overmantle, cornicing and several sash windows. The eighteenth-century history of this building is there for all to see - if you’re looking!

The point of this segue to the land of stationery is that buildings on Coney Street have been adapted in the past, and can be adapted again for the future. Given the changing nature of retail and high streets, we wanted, in the third StreetLife workshop run with York Civic Trust, to prompt discussion about what happens after the shop. Looking at what existed before, and how buildings have been adapted, can inspire our thinking, as we showed through our research - see After the Shop, Pt 1: Adaptive Reuse on Coney Street (coming soon).

We posed some of the toughest questions of the series in this workshop, and Stephen Lee Hodgkins captured the answers in visual minutes with his amazing doodles. The questions are:

  • What new, or returning, uses would you like to see on Coney Street?
  • Where do you see opportunities for adaptive reuse?
'Visual minutes' from a StreetLife workshop by Stephen Lee Hodgkins

 Here are a few key points from our participants:

  1. Uses, uses, uses...
    Ale houses, artists’ studios, apartments, bike hire and bike repair, cheesecake factories, cafes, dentists’, doctors’, dance schools, delivery hubs, e-sports, eateries, flats, family attractions, gyms, grocers’, galleries. That’s all of the uses participants suggest beginning with A-G. We could continue for the next three-quarters of the alphabet, but you can see the point: there are plenty of options!

    Amongst all these use suggestions, residential uses are a high priority, facilitating a diversity of uses is important, and places to sit and rest or look after small children are key facilities lacking on the street.
  2. Creating a community
    The idea of Coney Street becoming a community with people living, working and spending leisure time there is popular, so our participants suggest uses including residential, office space and shared services which support community life.
  3. Above and below
    Basement venues or roof-top cafes, people are thinking across the whole of buildings. But across multi-storey buildings, participants also highlight the need for better access.
  4. Flexibility
    We’ve seen department store-sized shops become almost redundant. People are keen not to repeat the mistake, seeking new places that are designed flexibly so that they can be residential, offices, start-up businesses or retail as needed. Or spaces that can transform across the day and into the evening.
  5. A holistic strategy
    Coney Street does not exist in isolation. Participants are well aware that change on Coney Street impacts the rest of the city. What are the relationships between the streets and how they function? The need for a holistic city strategy came to the fore as Coney Street adapts.

Many thanks to our wonderful participants for all your contributions. We enjoyed the discussions and enjoyed sharing the surprise of the not-so-hidden heritage of Coney Street’s buildings.