Place identity, branding and experience

We cannot interact with the high street in the same way we interact with a product brought off the shelf. In contrast to an online item, every scent, sight and sound contributes to a unique and personal experience on the high street which cannot be standardised.

It is impossible for town centre managers to dictate, or predict what type of experience each visitor may have because there are so many disparate elements which make up a high street.

This section has a collection of schemes to help champions of the high street do what they can to make every experience a memorable one for all the right reasons. A dancer at Barking's African showcase

39. Street parades and stage shows

There are a lot of consultative, management, security and practical considerations. However, creating a carnival atmosphere through street parades and stage shows on the high street can be a great way for significantly increasing footfall and bringing colour into a town centre.

One element to making an open-air parade or show a success is choosing a unique theme which reflects positively on the character and history of the town. Another is to ensure the event meets the needs of the local demographic.

40. Community workshops

Hosting workshops on the high street could be a good way of bringing a community together. By using themes of interest to specific communities, for example local heritage, ethnic cookery or workshops for kids, then a great deal of interest could be developed.

There may be some businesses on the high street who would be willing to lend their premises to such a good cause, especially if this reflects well on the image of the business as well as the image of the town centre as a whole.

41. Entertaining the kids

In the spirit of being welcoming to all, town centre managers and local authorities must remember that an adult's experience of the high street is not the only one that is important.

Kids are the decision makers of the future and entertaining them will do wonders for drawing in young families. There are plenty of imaginative events which could be hosted to keep children occupied.

42. Reversing decline of existing markets

The market is one of the oldest forms of retailing and the origin of many of today's high streets. Although they have been a cornerstone of retailing for hundreds of years, many traditional markets are suffering from a lack of investment and nurturing.

Not only do town centre managers need to ensure that the highest calibre of entrepreneurs are running markets but also that basic infrastructure is provided where necessary. This includes toilet facilities, credit card payment systems and refrigeration for fresh produce.

43. Introduction of new markets

Far from being in decline, there are many new markets which have become gems of the retail sector, encouraging high footfall and astonishing growth rates. Farmers market These small businesses are as diverse and as innovative as the people who run them.

The UK is now home to a selection of farmers, craft, ethnic, continental and other specialist markets which add colour to the high street. By introducing new, well managed markets an extra dimension can be added to your retail offer.

The strategic positioning of new markets can be used to bring footfall to areas of the town centre that do not traditionally get as many visitors, enticing people to explore what the town centre has to offer off the beaten track.

This could make better use of public spaces in areas outside of the retail core that do not receive the same footfall levels as more prominent locations.

44. Introduction of a crèche

Young families may be put off visiting the high street because of the inconvenience of navigating their way around with children. Yet, a key remit of the high street is to be inclusive.

By making a crèche available, ensuring it is well managed and promoted, those with young families could be tempted to the high street. This will give town centre access to an important market segment and allowing parents to enjoy the town centre experience, knowing their children are well looked after.

45. Visible collection boxes

Aggressive begging can be a particularly difficult problem for town centres to face. On the one hand there is a desire to make a visitor feel as safe and secure as possible while, on the other, not losing sight of the genuine hardships disadvantaged people such as the homeless, face. One approach to this is to use visible collection boxes on the high street. If the money collected is distributed by local charities in the right way, to those for whom it is intended, then aggressive begging can be greatly reduced.

It is important that the people who will be relied on to contribute are informed of where the money is going and how this helps to make the high street a better place.

46. Charitable donations

A charitable high street can foster goodwill among local communities and many other stakeholders. Not only can donations reflect well on the character and image of a town centre but there have also been examples where people have been willing to contribute more to the high street, (both in time and money), because the high street itself represents a worthy cause.

One good way of directly linking customer spend to charitable donations is through a loyalty card system whereby a small percentage of revenue is earmarked for a cause of the town's choosing.

47. Creating a sense of place through narratives

Creating narratives for your town can invoke a sense of place. Narratives for your town could be based on anything from history to heritage, from local celebrities to famous local inventions, from grand architecture to the natural landscape.

You cannot rely solely on the development of an interesting narrative but must also find an imaginative way for your town centre to convey the story. A place story can be brought to life through plaques, monuments, art or online media. This could be developed using ideas from residents, schools, community groups and artists.

48. Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is the name given to a new era in online activity. No longer is the Internet just a forum through which institutions can talk to people. Web 2.0 means even those Internet users with little technical knowledge can talk back, talk to each other and be heard.

For a high street it means the creation of brand identities are longer the sole preserve of the town centre manager as conversations across the Internet can overpower any formal coordinated marketing campaigns. This is a great challenge for town centre managers but also a great opportunity for those who can embrace the technology and lead the conversation.

Social networking on the Internet means you can open a dialogue with all kinds of stakeholders from major investors to individual consumers, keeping them informed and being kept informed of a range of developments and opinions. Web 2.0 can mobilise social opinion and social action for the good of the high street.

Activists in the town of Dunstable have been influential in this respect, creating Facebook and Twitter accounts which supporters are invited to join. Updates are linked to the Dunstable website, meaning multiple platforms are kept up to date constantly, which keeps the public informed of developments in the town. In turn, public opinion on specific events or on the town in general can be garnered informally, acting as a very cost effective form of market research.

Facebook, Twitter and many other social networking tools are free to set up, and require minimal technical knowledge, yet their value can be great.

Long live Dunstable website

49. Communicate your achievements

Communicating achievements is a key part of ongoing success, and allows you to build on previously-generated good publicity.

If you are finding it difficult to generate the right publicity in the right places, including a representative from the local media on your steering group is a good way of ensuring that information regarding your successes is communicated as widely as possible.

50. Make a town centre an attractive proposition for residents

It can be easy to forget that a town centre is not just about shopping, café culture and the evening economy. With the right kind of development it can also be a great place to live, bringing people to the heart of the action.

By remembering to ensure that your town centre is as viable for residents as it is for consumers then a lot could be achieved. Each resident, with the high street on their doorstep is likely to make the most of local services, insulating your town centre against the threat of out-of-town developments and internet shopping.

The ‘Managing District Centres in Northwest Europe' project has highlighted how residents can be made to feel ‘at home' in a town centre. Participants, Hagen City Council, based in the northwest Germany, appointed a coordinator of residential services to ensure dwellers had access to whatever they needed. The coordinator acts as a caretaker on behalf of the town centre residents ensuring they have a first point of contact for any problems they may encounter.

Managing District Centres in Northwest Europe website

51. Case studies

Broad Street's Walk of Stars

Julie Walters at Birmingham's Walk of Stars (courtesy of January 2007 thOzzy Osbourne at Birmingham's Walk of Starse idea for the Birmingham Walk of Stars was conceived as a Hollywood-style pavement attraction, to honour Birmingham's homegrown stars and to raise the profile of the Broad Street BID.

In order to make a credible impact, the scheme needed some famous names. But rather than installing a number of plaques in one go it was felt by all partners that the scheme would have a stronger ‘uniqueness' and long-term potential if each star attended an individual ceremony. Rock musician Ozzy Osbourne and comedian Jasper Carrott were approached and, following negotiations to outline the scheme's credibility, dates were agreed for them to appear at their own Walk of Stars induction ceremonies in July and September 2007. These were attended jointly by over 20,000 people, with more than 100 worldwide media present.

The outcome was a spectacular event independently assessed as having a media value of £1.72 million. The Walk of Stars has become a popular attraction in Birmingham city centre and presents something very different from Broad Street's usual offering of late night drinking establishments.

Barking's African Showcase

African Showcase is a London-based market festival that travels from borough to borough, presenting and promoting a variety of African art and culture including textiles, fashion, the visual arts, dance and food.

Recently, they have built a strong working relationship with Barking and Dagenham Town Centre Management, who they feel support the concept and have provided both physical and financial support. It is based on the traditional African concept of the ‘Market Square', featuring a day of trading and celebration that would have been attended by all of the neighbouring townspeople. As well as the market stalls, a central stage features entertainment from bands to fashion shows.

Barking and Dagenham is home to communities from all over the world and the council believes that holding international markets is an excellent a way of celebrating those communities. A programme of speciality events, including French and Italian markets, has been held since 2004, and the African Showcase was a response to the large and growing African community in the borough

Easter Hops - Jump into Poole this Easter

Poole Town Centre Management brought together a wide range of partners from the public sector, private sector and the faith community to organise and promote a unique Easter celebration, incorporating entertainment and themed decorations.

"Easter Hops" was designed as a free family event, centred on the creation of an ‘urban zoo' with rabbits, new-born lambs, guinea pigs and baby chicks. A large marquee was installed in a main shopping and entertainment square. The whole area was decorated in yellow and green garlands and floral displays around the town followed the chosen colour template of yellow, white, green and orange.

An Easter Continental Market was staged on the High Street and several supplementary events were organised around the town, including:

  • appearances by Scooby Doo and Angelina Ballerina
  • an Easter Bunny Hunt
  • an Easter arts project for children
  • performances by the brass section of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

By working closely with Churches Together in Poole, the events were linked to a number of religious celebrations and services. As well as promoting local arts and culture, the event delivered a marked improvement in footfall.

Town centre counters showed that 500,000 people passed on to the High Street over the two-week event period compared with an average 300,000 for a typical fortnight. The local shopping centre recorded a 4.6 per cent rise in footfall over the Easter week.

Wood Green: International Short Film Festival

Wood Green in north London needed an event to change its image and win more positive press. As a film fan and filmmaker, the town centre manager thought the best way to achieve this would be through the magic of cinema. In 2003, the Wood Green International Short Film Festival was launched as a one-day event. By year three it was selling out within minutes of opening and now attracts short films from all over the world.

Film festivals have traditionally taken place in more affluent areas. But previously economically depressed Wood Green has now proved the potential for an initiative to both change local perceptions and become a highly-respected international event in its own right. This success is reflected in the number of external partners wanting to take part now and in the future.

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28 July 2015

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