If your council is in tune with local customer demands it can play a vital role in kickstarting a renewal of business performance and revival in collective town centre performance. More than ever, in recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, there is a need to work with business groups in collectively ensuring that town and city centres are safe and welcoming places.
By developing a local authority-wide strategy that follows an evidence-based understanding of changing customer habits and demands, councils can support town centre businesses in adapting and creating new opportunities.
Evolving retail role
Shops and shopping will continue to evolve and play an important role in town and city centres aided by local strategy that adapts to national changes and local circumstances. According to a report on the future of retail by the British Retail Consortium retailers can respond in-part with training and investment in technology that will create better paid jobs, although there may be fewer of them. As well as brokering national schemes such as the Apprenticeship Levy, councils can have a key role in determining the retail role and growth of neighbouring centres, working with partners in place branding and marketing plus supporting independent shops through digital skills and infrastructure.
Focusing on food and drink
One of the key factors driving the better performance of high streets relative to shopping centres over the last decade, has how their offer has widened including particularly the food and beverage sector. Many town and city centres have a large customer base who are not local during the working day. Evening and weekend footfall have been part of the good news story for town and city centres recently. As part of the COVID-19 recovery planning, it will be essential that Councils engage with the hospitality sector to create a town-wide approach to the safe re-opening and operation of cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars.
Councils can help businesses to help themselves by surveying their needs, supporting local networks, working with chambers of trade and helping to establish new business improvement districts (BIDs). Such a coming together can enable mentoring in skills such as visual merchandising, achieve savings through group purchasing, enable joint marketing and create new town centre events.
Boosting the evening economy
As a local council you may want to find ways of improving and promoting the evening economy in your town or city centre for the benefit of businesses and residents. The Purple Flag standard is an accreditation process managed by the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM). It allows members of the public to quickly identify town & city centres that offer an entertaining, diverse, safe and enjoyable night out. In doing so, it helps boost the performance of the evening and night time economy (ENTE) as a growth area in town and city centres.
The accreditation process takes towns and cities through a comprehensive set of standards, management processes and good practice examples all designed to help transform the ENTE and provide a research, training and development programme. Research conducted by ATCM indicates that Purple Flag can bring real benefits to town and city centres including customer base and more successful mixed use economy in the longer-term.
There are five core standards that must be achieved for accreditation and which in turn will lead to a successful evening economy:
- The Policy Envelope: an after-hours policy that shows a clear strategy based on sound research, integrated public policy and a successful multi-sector partnership.
- Wellbeing: successful destinations are all safe and welcoming with all sectors playing their part in delivering high standards of customer care.
- Movement: getting home safely after an evening out is crucial, as is the ability to move around the centre on foot with ease.
- Appeal: successful destinations offer a vibrant choice of leisure and entertainment for a diversity of ages, groups, lifestyles and cultures.
- Place: successful areas are alive during the day, as well as in the evening. They contain a blend of overlapping activities that encourage people to mingle and enjoy the place. They reinforce the character and identity of the area as well as flair and imagination in urban design for the night.
Working with BIDs
Business improvement districts are a model for local delivery of town centre revitalisation that has grown rapidly in recent years. A BID is a business-led organisation set up to improve an area with funding from a levy on local businesses. Whilst BIDs bring extra resources, they should be considered as important allies to local authority-led regeneration alongside councils’ statutory roles such as planning and their wider community remits.
An introduction to BIDs, topical news and details of training and events can be obtained from the BID Foundation. The Foundation is a new industry-led body created from an alliance of leading BIDs and industry professionals. The BID Foundation operates with the support of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for place management.
Re-evaluating and adapting to impacts
As part of the COVID-19 recovery planning, councils and town partnerships need to engage with businesses to re-evaluate and adapt to the impacts on businesses. This can begin by evaluating the varying impact on businesses by location and sector including take-up of funding support, ability to trade and adaptation including through on-line sales. More than ever, there is a need to work with business associations and similar groups in facilitating the joint presentation and promotion of accessible, safe and welcoming town centres.
Alongside its roadmap for a UK-wide recovery strategy, the Government has published guidance on how shops and branches can be reopened and operate safely. These guidelines are kept constantly updated and reviewed. Similar guidance is being made available by roadmap taskforces for the following sectors: pubs and restaurants; non-essential retail (including salons); recreation and leisure, including tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport; places of worship.
Rotherham Council’s business vitality grants have helped twelve new independent retailers open in the town centre and over 100 makers, artists and crafters have been supported to test-trade and grow their business at the Makers Emporium on the revamped High Street.
Canterbury Council and the City’s BIDs have worked together in supporting Canterbury in becoming one of 70 towns and cities who have been awarded the Association of Town and City Management’s Purple Flag accreditation in recognition of work to support a high quality evening and night time economy.