High streets in England are set to benefit from a £95m government-funded scheme to help them recover from the impact of Covid-19 and declining footfall.

Disused and dilapidated buildings will be restored into new homes, shops, workplaces and community spaces in 68 high streets through Historic England’s heritage action zone (HSHAZ) programme.

Historic England said up to 48% of the nation’s retail stock was built before 1919 and the loss of businesses from the high street is placing these buildings at risk while “undermining the character, local identity and viability of the high street”.

The initiative is funded with £40m from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport and £52m from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with a further £3m to be provided by the national lottery heritage fund.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the Guardian: “High streets sit at the heart of our communities and every part of the country deserves to have one they can be proud of.

“This fund will help breathe new life into high streets in towns and cities across the country – restoring them to their full glory so that they are beautiful places for people to shop, work and enjoy.”

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “Whether it’s a medieval market town, or a post-war city centre, every high street in England has a distinctive history that can be harnessed to help it achieve a prosperous future.

“Investing in heritage delivers good results for people – it means looking after and celebrating the places at the heart of our communities, and the buildings and public spaces which define their character.

“This investment will unlock the potential of these precious high streets and help them thrive again.”

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show UK retail sales in August were 4% higher than in February, whereas online sales were 46.8% higher than pre-pandemic levels.