Successful collective interventions to ‘future-proof’ town and city centres

Urban stakeholders are increasingly realising the importance of collective action in attempts to ‘future proof’ town and city centres, to ensure that ‘their’ centre retains an important role in the economic and social life of associated communities.  Such collective actions, often implemented under the aegis of urban management partnerships (UMPs), raise some key questions for these organisations: what type(s) of collective interventions are the most effective; and how to create sufficient support for them? 

In 2017-18, a research project, led by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and funded by Shopping Tomorrow (a Dutch retail and e-commerce think-tank), which comprised an expert group containing a number of IPM researchers and members, tried to answer these questions.  Specifically, the research – which analysed a variety of different types of interventions in 21 towns and cities across the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK – sought to identify and illustrate the factors that underpin successful collective interventions aimed at ’future-proofing’ town and city centres.

Continue reading “Successful collective interventions to ‘future-proof’ town and city centres”

How a Task Force might help English town and city centres


Dover Town Centre. Photo taken from Cannon Street.
Photo by Eluveitie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18829651

by Simon Quin

The UK Government has announced that it is to fund the establishment of a High Street Task Force for five years to support the transformation of town centres in England.

During 2018, the Institute also worked closely with UK Government to tease out some of the underlying issues affecting town centre vitality and viability. There is a long history of policy-led responses to the challenges of town centres in the UK, from adaptations to planning policy in the mid-1990s  (“Town centres first” and the Sequential Test), through support for Town Centre Management and the bringing forward of legislation to permit Business Improvement Districts (2003 in England), then a government-supported review led by retail consultant Mary Portas (2011) to the establishment of Future High Street Forum chaired by a government Minister (2013).

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Championing the high street – a look at a UK Government initiative

by Prof Simon Quin

The speed of change in retail is having a real impact on places. From ghost malls to dark stores in North America and the headline-hitting town centre vacancy across much of Europe, it is easy to be persuaded that we are nearing the end of bricks and mortar retail. Those of us working in place management know this is not the case but there are plenty of recent examples of how once a story gets a hold, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. This is why the Institute welcomed the re-emergence of the Great British High Street Awards. Promoted by the UK Government at Ministerial level and with strong backing from principal sponsor Visa, the initiative had sufficient weight to gain media attention and make its own headlines over an extended period, culminating in an award ceremony on 15 November.

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Labour’s 5-point plan to save the high street scores 2 points

by Prof Cathy Parker

Last Wednesday, 26th September, at the Labour Party Conference, Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Business Secretary announced Labour’s emergency 5-point plan “to save Britain’s high streets”.

In this blog article I look at each part of the plan, and evaluate its likely impact on the high street. Where I think something can really help transform the high street, I award it a point. If I don’t think it will make a difference, then I don’t award any points. Continue reading “Labour’s 5-point plan to save the high street scores 2 points”

European fund to improve town centre policy

Norther Quarter, Manchester
By Mikey from Wythenshawe, Manchester, UK – High Street, Manchester, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34807477

Manchester is one of five European regions set to benefit from a new European fund designed to help regional and local governments to develop and deliver better town centre policy.

The Institute of Place Management (IPM) at Manchester Metropolitan University will utilise part of a £1.5 million grant from the European funding body Interreg, to investigate how companies, councils and other local groups can work together more effectively to improve their town centres.  One of the major outcomes of the work will be a nationwide audit of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and their achievements.

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TEDx Macclesfield event: Building community; strengthening places

community place
Photo: Simon Brown

By Chloe Steadman,

Over recent years, TED talks have become something of a global phenomenon; showcasing the work of the brightest brains from all over the World through their series of short, powerful presentations covering a whole host of topics. On 28th April 2018, Macclesfield, in North West England and close to IPM headquarters, hosted their own TEDx event to showcase just some of the forward-thinking ideas, research, and experiences from those with personal connections to the town. In TED’s spirit of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, TEDx Macclesfield connects people with a shared link to Macclesfield to spark conversations, share ideas, and help to collectively make positive changes to the town at a local level. The event was organised by Lynne Jones and Jude D’Souza with help from enthusiastic local volunteers. Jones explained the importance of holding such a renowned event in the town:

Macclesfield (as perhaps any town) is grappling with a number of big issues – town centre regeneration, mental health service provision, local governance and democracy, supporting start-up businesses, and of course Brexit – but there are fewer public forums where real engagement can take place and ideas can be shared locally… The more of us who put something in, however small, the greater the sense connection and the stronger the community becomes. The danger is that we are living in silos more than ever, not hearing from those who hold different views…”

This event was about dismantling such silos, and creating a platform for cultivating a network of local people with a shared passion for making Macclesfield a more thriving place to live, work, and dwell. The event was a complete sell-out, with an audience of 100 local people gathering in Townley Street Chapel- a community hub in Macclesfield. Although the speakers covered a diverse range of topics, the presentations were threaded together by the common theme of how collaboration is key– something which is integral for generating any place’s vitality and viability.

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What can culture and the arts do for a place? 

by Gareth Roberts

As our members will know, at IPM we spend much of our time conducting research into how we can make better places. Much of this work focuses on the high street, and whilst our towns and cities are clearly operating in a challenging environment, we are always keen to point out that this challenge does not signal their demise. Rather, it is reflective of a shift in how we use them, with retail no longer the critical fulcrum it once was, and it is down to place managers to develop the means of capitalising on this change in demand.

As this realisation sets in, towns and cities are increasingly looking for ways to complement their retail offer, encouraging visitors through other means. One way this is being done is through the development of a cultural offering. This is nothing new – planners and policy makers began to espouse the development of cultural activity in the early 1990s as a means of revitalising cities in the process of de-industrialisation[i], encouraging the rise of the ‘experience economy’[ii]. As a result, culture has, over time, become an increasingly common means of consuming a city[iii]. Continue reading “What can culture and the arts do for a place? “

The 39 steps – to understanding High Street performance – Part 2

Infographic-website_900x900by Prof Cathy Parker

In last week’s blog post I mentioned the 39 research questions of our new Innovate project. Here is some more detailed information about them:

RQ1: Are the distinct town types (comparison, specialty, convenience/community) recognisable in a bigger data set?

Preliminary research strongly indicates the existence of distinct footfall signatures. But these were originally identified in our pilot data set of 50 towns, using footfall data that ended in 2014.  Now we have more towns and data spanning 2006-2016 can we find additional evidence of the town types we originally identified? If so we will conclude the typology is robust – in other words it is generalisable to a bigger sample. Continue reading “The 39 steps – to understanding High Street performance – Part 2”

Power of Place: Carlisle

Carlisle Town Hall
Carlisle Town Hall

by Prof Cathy Parker*

On 11th May 2016 I was invited by Cumbria Business Interaction Centre, part of the University of Cumbria, to talk about local distinctiveness and growth for Carlisle to a small group of 10 local business owners, council officers and university staff. My evidence credentials were our ESRC-funded High Street UK 2020 project findings and new initial footfall research from the InnovateUK-funded place data science project, “Bringing Big Data to Small Users“. Continue reading “Power of Place: Carlisle”

Maintaining a vibrant Harrogate town centre

Betty's Tea Rooms Harrogate
Betty’s Tea Rooms Harrogate

by Prof Cathy Parker*

9th May 2016 I was invited to share the findings of our ESRC-funded High Street UK2020research at the 120th AGM of the Harrogate Chamber of Commerce.

Also presenting the future of transport for Harrogate was Cllr Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council and Cllr Rebecca Burnett, Harrogate Borough Council, provided an update on the Harrogate town centre strategy & masterplan.

About 130 people gave up an hour and half of their evening to hear how retail centres across the UK are changing and how Harrogate is planning to adapt. Continue reading “Maintaining a vibrant Harrogate town centre”