Meet the IPM: Interview with Simon Quin

SQ PoznanSimon Quin is the Institute’s Director of Place Management and is Practitioner Editor of the Journal of Place Management and Development. He was Chief Executive of the Association of Town Centre Management for six years where he oversaw a tripling of membership, making it the world’s largest organisation of its type, the introduction of Business Improvement Districts to the UK and the development of the Purple Flag awards. He has served on the Boards of the Washington-based International Downtown Association and of Town Centre Management Europe (TOCEMA). He was a founding Director of the UK’s National Skills Academy for Retail. He serves on the Project for Public Spaces (New York) Leadership Council and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has spoken on issues relating to place management in over twenty countries and, when not travelling, he is an active gardener and land manager.

“What might have been good for one type or size of place, or a place in a particular location, might not be the right idea in another one.”

Simon Quin, ten years ago you co-founded the Institute of Place Management together with Cathy Parker? What was your motivation?*

Simon Quin: At the time I had been a Town Centre Manager for 10 years and I was then CEO of ATCM and working closely with Downtown, Mainstreet, City and Town Centre Managers around the world. It was apparent that though much was being achieved through such initiatives, many errors and missteps were being made along the way. Although there was a great deal of sharing of experience, ideas and initiatives were often applied inappropriately (what might have been good for one type or size of place, or a place in a particular location, might not be the right idea in another one). The place managers themselves had come into the job from a wide variety of backgrounds (retail, planning, police, tourism, marketing, event planning etc) and were often unaware of the whole range of the job and had nowhere obvious to go to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed. During my time as Town Centre Manager I had been approached by quite a number of academics who were undertaking research, but on the whole that research was then published in journals that were inaccessible to practitioners. The opportunity to work with Cathy Parker and her team from MMU on a joint EU-funded project with smaller towns in the UK emphasised these concerns and led to us talking about how they could best be addressed and hence the Institute was born.

“You need to understand markets and trends, be agile, innovative and quickly responsive to threats and opportunities.”

You were the Chief Executive at the Association of Town Centre Management for several years. You were a city centre manager in Reading before that and a town centre manager in London Borough of Havering even earlier. What was your experience working with practitioners from all over the UK at that time?

Simon Quin: I came into town centre management having worked in economic development for six years, including two years project managing a research project for the UK government on the future of town and city centres. It was apparent then that those towns that had some form of management were performing better than towns without but TCM was still relatively new in the UK and initiatives were focusing on lots of different things. Over my time as a TCM/CCM and then with ATCM I was struck by several things. Firstly, the enthusiasm and openness of place managers. To this day, I still find conferences and events attended by place managers to be engaging and uplifting. Secondly, it was clear that there was a huge variety in the form and nature of initiatives, in their funding, level of influence in a location, background, partnership make-up, approach, and levels of knowledge and skills. This was reflected in what they could achieve. Thirdly, being a place manager is in many ways like being an entrepreneur. You need to understand markets and trends, be agile, innovative and quickly responsive to threats and opportunities. For some initiatives this was challenging, perhaps because of background of the place manager or the way the initiative was structured to fit into local government. It was also apparent that in some places appointing a TCM/CCM was seen as not just as a response to the issues the town or city centre faced, but the response to it and this was not always supported with funding or structures that were necessary to make the difference required. The sustainability of initiatives was a major challenge across the UK, and hence I was always a keen advocate of Business Improvement Districts as being part of the place management approach. It brings some certainty of funding and time scales but this needs to be supported by a strategic focus for the place as well.

“What is apparent is that many of the issues and processes involved in local place management are very similar around the world.”

You have been a guest speaker in more than 20 countries around the world. Do you find that place management differs substantially from country to country?

Simon Quin: There are of course differences. Differences in the role of the state, regional or local government and their ability, tradition and willingness to be involved. Differences in the nature of private sector engagement and the extent to which the community is involved. Some initiatives are clearly bottom-up responses whilst others have resulted from European Union or government funding. There are differences in the willingness of different sectors to work together in partnership. In some countries and cultures this is not a recognised route. So we can see many different structures existing. We can also see differences in approach, from some purely focused on place marketing and branding, others on place development and infrastructure investment, some on place making. However, what is apparent is that many of the issues and processes involved in local place management are very similar around the world. In talking to practitioners from many countries there will always be multiple areas of commonality, as researchers also understand, and there is a real desire to understand other experiences and approaches. This is why the Institute is international in its remit and why we believe there are real benefits from people being part of it all around the world.

“Knowing what type of town you are, and the extent to which you match that type, seems to us to be a useful starting point in determining what actions you should be taking to safeguard your sustainability.”

You have been recently involved in large research projects in towns around the UK, and you are publishing on them, too. Can you tell us something about the scope and findings of the latest projects?

Simon Quin: The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council was commissioning research into the future of retail. As retail remains such an important component of European town and city centres, we wanted to look at it in the context of town centre sustainability. This was our High Street UK 2020 (HSUK2020) research project. To ensure that our research was based in reality, we recruited ten town partnerships to work with us over the 18 month period. We deliberately chose medium to small centres as they represent the vast majority of towns. The research commenced with a literature review looking at retail and town and city centres and identified factors that the research suggest impact on the health and sustainability of a centre. This produced a list of 156 factors but with no sense of weighting or priority. A meeting with our 10 towns and some of the experts who were part of the project reviewed the list and identified around 50 additional factors. Some of these we found evidence for outside of the retail literature, but 12 things identified by our town partners we could not find and we therefore published them as a research agenda. At this point we had 201 factors that impacted on the vitality and viability of a centre and to make these have any relevance to practitioners they needed to be prioritised. We did this using 22 experts, about half from academia and half who practitioners/policy makers, using the Delphi technique. This not only prioritised the factors according to their level of impact on vitality and viability but also on the ability for them to controlled locally. Further statistical analysis enabled us to identify 25 factors that local partnerships and initiatives should be addressing. The project also was able to look at electronically monitored footfall for some 60 plus centres in the UK. Footfall is recognised as the key indicator of vitality. From analysing the footfall data for different towns that was supplied by Springboard, we were able to identify different town types based on how the centre is used over a year. These town types differ in their objectives and the nature of responses in them should also therefore differ. Knowing what type of town you are, and the extent to which you match that type, seems to us to be a useful starting point in determining what actions you should be taking to safeguard your sustainability. Towns that more closely epitomised a distinct type appear to be performing better than those that display more hybrid or confused patterns. We are going to explore this further with another project that starts soon. Much more information on HSUK2020 and its findings is available on our website and a fuller report will be published in an Open Access issue of the Journal of Place Management and Development later this year.

“We have the start of the next MSc in Place Management and Leadership coming up in October.”

How do you think that members of the Institute of Place Management can make the best of their membership?

Simon Quin: This will vary to some extent depending on whether they are an academic, practitioner or policy maker. However, the Institute offers an opportunity to have your experience and learning recognised through having professional letters (AIPM, MIPM, FIPM, SFIPM) that we hope will become widely recognised amongst those working in the field and which enable people to develop a career in this area. To support this we are currently reworking the Member Area of our website so that you will be more easily able to keep track of your Continuing Professional Development and actually showcase not only your achievements but also those of the place or places you are engaged with. This should go live this Autumn. I think that another opportunity is to study with us. We recently had members from eight countries join us on a very insightful study tour to Berlin which not only saw a great number of place management initiatives in the city but also included lectures and workshops that enabled a series of discussions in which different member experiences were shared. We have the start of the next MSc (or Post Graduate Certificate or Diploma if you prefer) in Place Management and Leadership coming up in October. I myself completed the course a few years ago and despite my working in place management as a practitioner for many years before that, the programme was eye-opening for me as it challenged so much that I thought I knew. It also allowed me to apply the learning from the programme to my day job as my assignments and research could focus on issues I was experiencing. This meant I and my partnership were able to make much more informed decisions. I would definitely recommend it. If you don’t have time for this, you can still engage with the Institute and other members by helping to develop our knowledge in each of the Special Interest Group areas. We always welcome articles (whether for the Journal of Place Management and Development or otherwise) and suggestions for topics. You can do this through email, the linkedin group, facebook, twitter, or contributing to the ipm blog. The Institute offers access to international experience and knowledge and the potential to help develop place management into a responsive and reflective profession that benefits the places we care about.

*The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides.


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