In 2017 the British Retail Consortium predicted 900,000 retail job losses by 2025, however, Covid has accelerated these changes [1]. In the first 6 months of 2020 the Retail Gazette reported that there had been a loss of over 24,000 retail jobs [2]. With challenges for the entertainment and restaurant sector, including increased costs and managing capacity for social distancing, there is a real concern on whether business will survive. 

Dr Steve Millington, from the Institute of Place Management (IPM), spoke to us about the work the High Streets Task Force has been doing to redefine the high street [3]. 

Problem 

There has been a 19.7% drop in footfall since 2009 [3], this drop hasn’t only affected retail, there has been an increase in banks, travel agents and estate agents closing their doors. This shift has often been referred to as, ‘the death of the high street’. Additionally, Covid-19 restrictions have hugely impacted the footfall on high streets, compounding the difficulties that they already faced.  

Solution 

The High Streets Task Force was set up as part of the Government’s ‘Plan for the High Street’ to support ‘communities and local government to transform their high streets’ [4].  The Task Force is a ‘consortium of high street experts with a wide range of knowledge and insight’, supported by the Institute of Place Management (IPM). At the launch, High Streets Minister, Jake Berry MP said: 

“…in order to evolve successfully, high streets must meet the needs of their local community and the key to this is strong local leadership. This is why we are providing additional support through a High Streets Task Force, drawing on the best expert advice, training and data that’s available” [5] 

While Covid has changed the way the task force does this; their mission has remained the same. The High Street Task Force has identified and continues to monitor the change in consumer trends as we move towards the ‘new normal’ [3].  

Steve discusses with us how they have seen an increase in people shopping locally in smaller centres rather than travelling to large cities: “smaller multifunctional towns have fared better compared to bigger cities where employees and students have not returned” [3]. Furthermore, a great number of people are working from home and it is likely that many won’t return to offices in the same way, choosing to work flexibly instead.  

It is important to “think beyond recovery to place transformation”. The High Street Task Force has taken the opportunity to redefine what is wanted from our high streets, they have “changed the remit of task force to help places plan for recovery and consider how we might transform and reinvent the high street” [3]. 

The Institute of Place Management has developed a Transformation Route map. This route map aims to assist place leaders in planning their towns recovery and future. The route map has been widely adopted and used by local authorities, business improvement districts, and place partnerships, across Europe and even downtown Chicago [3]. 

The framework is based around the 4 Rs: restructure, reposition, rebrand and reinvent. 

Restructure – ‘Leadership and governance’ [6]  

‘COVID has brought all sorts of people and groups together working in a way they have not before. Build on these – use it as an opportunity to refresh town centre partnerships’ [6]. Restructuring is not all about physical transformation, it’s about refreshing partnerships and listening to new voices [3].  

Reposition – ‘Developing a collaborative vision’ [6] 

Creating an ambitious vision that is inclusive, sustainable and better serves the community. Repositioning is about understanding how your place is changing, considering data and evidence to develop action plans [6].  

Rebrand – ‘Engendering pride, commitment and attachment’ through communication [6] 

‘Rebranding is about identifying what is special about places… understand[ing] how others see the town, what they love, what they like, what they criticise’ (High Streets Task Force) [6]. It is important to have open discussions with town centre users, utilising social media, to listen to what people are saying about the high street [4]. Ultimately, the long-term goal is to develop a sense of place[4].  

Reinvent – ‘Diversifying and encouraging multifunctionality’ [6] 

We need to redefine the high street beyond retail, reinventing what the town offers. The High Street Task Force states that ‘this means getting investment and identifying developers to deliver plans’ [6]. 

For each ‘R’ frame the High Street Task Force provides a webinar that you can access here. Alternatively, you can find further resources, such as, e-learning, guidance reports and the editable route map here

Sources:

[1] BBC.co.uk. 2016. 900,000 UK retail jobs could be lost by 2025, warns BRC. [Accessed 12 February 2021] 

[2] Retailgazette.co.uk. 2020. Employment in retail during Covid-19 [Accessed 12 February 2021] 

[3] Millington, S. 2020. The Future of British High Streets: Manchester Conference 

[4] High Streets Task Force [Accessed 12 February 2021] 

[5] Gov.uk. 2019. New Task Force to help revitalise high streets and town centres [Accessed 12 February 2021] 

[6] High Streets Task Force. Transformation Route Map [Accessed 12 February 2021] 

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In the first 6 months of 2020 the Retail Gazette reported that there had been a loss of over 24,000 retail jobs. With challenges for the entertainment and restaurant sector, including increased costs and managing capacity for social distancing, there is a real concern on whether business will survive.

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