Town Centre Sustainability at a National Level – A comment piece by Simon Quin
Simon is a Director and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Place Management but wrote this piece in a personal capacity.
I have been working to support town centre sustainability for twenty five years. In that time, a lot has changed and perhaps centres have, on the whole, proved more resilient than some forecasts have suggested. However, retail expenditure in town centres has continued to decline and the success of online retailing is proving a considerable challenge. How will centres respond?
Work I was engaged in with the Institute of Place Management a couple of years ago, identified through a review of the literature and work with 10 town centre partnerships, that there are some 201 factors that impact on town centre vitality and viability. We were able to identify the most significant twenty-five of these. These are factors that are controllably locally, by the establishment of effective partnerships, and that leading academic, policy and practitioner experts identify as having the most significant impact on vitality and viability. Two of these factors: networks and partnerships, and vision and leadership are both critical locally but I believe are also relevant nationally.
In this year of the unexpected where there appears to be a desire to take back control, it would seem appropriate to look at existing higher level networks and partnerships and ask whether they are serving the needs of our town and city centres and those who manage them as well as they could. I therefore welcome Revive & Thrive’s suggestion that a review of the services they provide should be undertaken. I particularly welcome the suggested approach that this review should not be led by the core team but rather by the members and friends of the organisation. Does the offer meet the needs of those it is trying to serve? Do UK town and city centres get the best support possible from what is now available or is change needed?
In embarking on such a review, the question of where the vision and leadership arises is important. We have all worked in town centres where lots of stakeholders are ready to blame other people (‘the retailers’, ‘the Council’ etc) for deficiencies and suggest that if only they did something things would be better. I have seen that where this is turned to asking what can I personally do to change things, what is my responsibility, how can I work with others to make changes, then the results are far more rapid and beneficial for the centre. Revive & Thrive are seeking input and this is the opportunity to seize the initiative and demonstrate that what you have learned in your day job about networks and partnerships, about collaboration and about meeting customer needs and expectations can be translated to create a service that is the one you need, but to do that you need to be part of the process. [dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”perspective-right” width=”210px” height=”” background_color=”#f4b67c” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Click here – to read about Simon’s work on a new research and development project, Bringing Big Data to Small Users[/dropshadowbox]
I was involved in setting the Institute of Place Management up ten years ago. We made radical decisions about a new kind of body designed to provide professional support to individuals who are working to make places better. We learned from the experience of other organisations around the world and in other fields and we involved many people in the process. Over the last 10 years we have reviewed and revised our approach and some things have been abandoned and others adopted. We today have some 1300 fellows, members and friends around the world who are actively developing themselves as professionals in place management. The Institute, however, never sought to be a UK network focused on towns and cities, though we do extensive research in this area. Such organisations already existed but the landscape is changing just as town centres themselves are.
In June this year, I participated in the World Towns Leadership Summit in Edinburgh. This was a great event which generated a lot of new ideas from an international gathering. As a result of this, I have no hesitation in saying that in the review of how Revive & Thrive operates and what it offers, I would urge you to take a personal involvement. To think about how your needs are currently met by them or other organisations you belong to and also be clear about what is missing or wrong with current offers. It is perhaps not often enough that you get this opportunity and when it comes we should not be bound by traditional approaches but have bold ideas, think of radical approaches, look at the best of international experience and design something that suits the fast-changing world, even if it is re-imagined or redone in five or ten years as the world changes. I welcome the opportunity to input into this process.