Building a sustainable partnership

Good town centre management is often dependent on strong partnerships. However, strong partnerships are not easy to forge. Funding is often required to ensure the costs of a partnership can be met. Furthermore, the cooperation of different stakeholders is essential but, sometimes, these stakeholders can have competing objectives.

This section outlines what town centre managers can do to build the foundations for good partnerships, who can govern the high street with the interests of all stakeholders in mind.

1. The basics - create a partnership

Urbis in Manchester

Town centres are one of the few locations used by every section of the community. To ensure a high level of inclusivity, representatives of all town centre user groups should be involved in developing a high street business plan. Representation might come from spheres as diverse as the economic, social, political, cultural, religious or educational. The resulting partnership might include:

  • local authorities
  • retailers
  • shopping centre managers
  • landowners
  • employers
  • chambers of commerce
  • transport operators
  • the leisure and hospitality sector
  • the media
  • police
  • residents
  • charities
  • community groups
  • other working groups.

2. Include a member of the county council in your partnership

Including a member of the county council in your partnership can have many benefits, including:

  • partnership access to knowledge on the region
  • improved decision making
  • strategic direction.

The involvement of a county council representative can also be useful when considering the relationship between neighbouring centres.

3. Form a membership scheme

Membership schemes are being set up, with businesses invited to become formal contributors in town centre management partnerships. For an annual fee, they buy a share in the town centre management operation, with the promise of a return in the form of an increase in forecast cash flow or business cost reductions at levels that exceed their subscription rate. Various incentives and opportunities can be provided but essentially services and discounts are offered which are exclusive to members. The service offering for the membership can differ depending on the needs of each town centre.

The more far-sighted partnerships have focused on ways to engage a broader representation of the business community both financially and by direct involvement, via town-wide membership programmes.

4. Planning for a healthy high street

Evolution is an enduring featuring for many of our high streets. Often, the most positive evolution is one which is managed, grounded in strategic planning. It allows actors on the high street to be proactive in the light of rapid change which can be forced upon town centres. A plan needs to identify the strategic priorities for a partnership over a three to five year period.

To write a good plan it will be important to review the internal factors affecting the high street, such as resources available, size, character and so on. This should be combined with a review of the external environment in order to identify a high street's aims and objectives. For those with little experience of writing business plans, it may be best to follow popular models to help guide the process.

  • Use a ‘SWOT' analysis for the internal review. This is a study of the high street's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Use a SLEPT analysis for the external review. This is a study of the social, legislative, economic, political and technological factors that are affecting the high street.
  • Finally, ensure all resulting objectives meet the SMART test. This means making sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time oriented.

5. Limited company status for partnerships

By using limited company status, a partnership can be formalised and transformed into a legal entity.

As well as creating a defined structure, this could have a number of other impacts including expanding the influence and credibility of the partnership and making it eligible for larger funding streams.

6. Form a business improvement district

Business improvement districts, or BIDs, are a great tool for partnerships to raise money to improve the high street. This is especially so in areas where local authorities do not have the resources to make the high street an attractive proposition for consumers and investors.

BIDs involve charging businesses within a designated area a negotiated additional supplement on top of their existing business rates. A BID levy is typically compulsory, but can only be legally enforced once a majority of businesses vote to accept the BID's prospectus. This provides a framework for accountability which improves the operations of BIDs.

To make a BID more effective, voluntary agreements with property owners could be negotiated. Many will be happy to contribute if the BID proposal is strong because a vibrant high street is also in their interest.


7. Building an evidence base to monitor performance

To be able to improve the performance of your town centre, you first need to construct a picture of what is actually happening. By selecting key performance indicators, such as footfall, vacancy rates or local spend, your can quickly build an evidence base which informs you of the strengths and weaknesses of you town centre.

Collecting this data over a number of years can tell you how your town centre is evolving and bring to light interesting trends. Knowing these trends is vital for a strategic approach to town centre management.

The research team at Skillsmart Retail regularly prepares and publishes authoritative reports, looking at different issues within retail, often with regional breakdowns. Recent research has included 'The Impact of Online Trading; Quantifying perceptions of a career in retail'; 'Skills Priorities for the Retail Sector and its Four Nations', as well as a series of regional background briefs. In-depth market intelligence will help you assess the sector as a whole and allow you to plan a way forward for your town.

8. Keep in touch with your partnership

Continuous engagement with your partnership can help retain cooperation. Make sure you keep in touch with your partnership, especially to communicate your achievements. The media, emails, newsletters, performance panel reports, websites, lunches and meetings are all viable ways of keeping in touch. Ensuring that any dialogue is a two-way process is just as important. Membership surveys are a useful tool of achieving this by providing a feedback outlet.

One way this can be implemented is for the town centre partnership or local authority to have a physical presence on the high street by making the most of otherwise vacant property. Such a presence could act as a first point contact for stakeholders, deal with partnership enquiries face-to-face and even act as a vehicle for the distribution of certain local services.

9. Attracting sponsorship

Town centres are good environments for companies to promote themselves. The key is matching specific business objectives to particular projects.

Be aware that companies have different reasons for sponsorship:

  • brand awareness
  • charitable impulse
  • a source of customer information
  • community and business to business involvement
  • new product launches
  • PR benefits
  • local staff loyalty
  • customer communication and so on.

10. Apply for funding

Widening the participation of different parts of the community in the high street is a social agenda valued by numerous local, regional, national and international bodies.

Consequently, there will be plenty of opportunities to bid for funding where innovative ideas exist to enhance community cohesion.

11. Learn from others

Many town centres share common problems. Meetings and workshops attended by town centre managers, local authorities and elected members provide an environment where people can 'bounce ideas off each other', learn new approaches and bring fresh impetus to high streets, can help to solve these problems.

Although town centre management might be a product of the UK, Britain does not hold a monopoly on progressive ideas to rekindle interest in the high street. Wherever possible town centre managers should look to work with those abroad. This can be through twinning schemes, funded projects or international events to learn about some of the fascinating schemes happening across the globe.

One opportunity for town centre managers to do this is through the Association of Town Centre Management's (ATCM) Summer School. This takes place every year, bringing together individuals and partnerships in the industry to discuss themes common for many of our high streets.

12. Case study

Remaking the heart of Sheffield's city centre

This ambitious project was made possible by a creative funding 'cocktail', which drew £130 million from the Millennium Commission, central government and European sources.

It was designed to bring a vibrant new focus to Sheffield city centre, attracting jobs and investment through a sea change in the quality and sustainability of the public realm. A series of coordinated regeneration works began with the transformation of the city's Peace Gardens. This created an award-winning, busy and beautiful public space that set the tone for additional major improvements to the quality and attractiveness of the Town Hall Square and other central thoroughfares.

The project's crowning glory is the spectacular Winter Garden. This is a massive arched architectural icon, the largest glasshouse in any European city centre, housing 2,500 exotic plants and supporting social enterprise through a number of associated business starter units.

Go to Accessing the high street >>>


17 February 2015

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