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21 June 2024

Town Centre Transition Offers a Huge Opportunity


GUEST COLUMN:

Medi Parry-Williams
Founder and Director
MPW Making Places Work

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The heartbeat of any community lies in its town centre – a place where people gather, businesses thrive, and the cultural soul of the town is expressed.

As I rejuvenate town and shopping centres, there are several main priorities to deliver in order to transform a place into a vibrant, sustainable and welcoming space for all.

It goes without saying that put something in that people want – and they will come. But of course, there’s a lot more involved than just that.

As we all know, town centres no longer serve the same purpose as they did a decade ago. Town centres are now in a transitional period – and for me this is a positive period for growth, opportunity and empowerment.

The way customers shop has changed, the way retailers’ trade has changed and the way in which societies use their community spaces and town centres has changed.

So what does this mean?

The primary reason for town centre visits is now service driven with shopping a secondary pursuit. With this in mind, it’s important to offer a variety of public services, health and educational services and leisure and cultural services to not only attract a strong customer base of all ages, but to attract that customer on a regular basis. Under-utilised spaces pose the perfect opportunity for this – and with a vision and the know-how much can be achieved.

Of course, a town centre would not be a town centre without a selection and variety of big name stores complemented with the authenticity of independent retailers and businesses. Therefore to create the uniqueness and interest to fulfil a town’s character and culture, a diverse range of businesses is what’s needed to add to the overall customer experience.

The overall look and feel of a town centre and its physical appearance is key when looking at the customers’ experience. Town centres need to feel inviting, clean, safe and a joy to visit. Having what I would call the ‘basic necessities’ in place such as clean pathways, greenery, lighting and street furniture goes a long way. Elevate this further and adding nice shop fronts, signage, public art and green spaces and all of a sudden, you have a space that feels inclusive, welcoming and easy to navigate.

My approach has been to always try and solve more than one problem at a time – and when I look at social and cultural activities in a town centre, it’s always important to engage with the community and have spaces for interaction. This creates an opportunity to form friendships, develop skills – socially and professionally – and combat loneliness. This is creating a sense of belonging. Festivals, events and regular markets all create an opportunity for businesses to thrive, people to come together and for a town centre to raise the bar in terms of experience and its overall town centre offering.

Infrastructure will always play a crucial part in town centre regeneration as it’s imperative that customers can travel to the destination whether this be via car, rail, bus, bike or foot. Facilities available to accommodate all means of travel will always sustain the longevity of a town and attract a more diverse audience.

The power of marketing also plays an integral role in town centre regeneration. Digital marketing especially is extremely powerful and can create a ‘buzz’ very quickly. The customer expects to have all knowledge at their fingertips – therefore an up-to-date promotions, events and marketing strategy is key.

A vibrant town centre also needs a thriving community where residential, commercial and recreational spaces co-exist, bringing life to the area around the clock, creating jobs and supporting the night-time economy.

But after years of experience and regenerating towns and shopping centres, collaboration between public and private sector organisations alongside a robust and positive town centre organisation such as a town centre working group is what is key to transforming and developing a successful town centre. The engagement from businesses, stakeholders and the community must all come together to work as one to promote their town, for the good of the community and for future generations.

Town centres will continue to evolve as they go through this transitional period. After lessons have been learnt through being too reliant on one service, a mixed-use offer from our town centres is what will appeal to all users.



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