A year ago I was asked visit seven towns that had received government funding to regenerate their town centres. My brief seemed simple enough: to find out what they were doing and share their ideas on social media so that towns who didn’t receive any funding could learn from them.
Once I started I realised it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I’d thought. The regeneration projects I saw were fantastic. But many of the ideas were complicated, had taken months of planning, had additional funding from other sources, and were specific to the needs of that particular town. It wasn’t easy to find low-cost ideas that could be easily copied and were simple enough to share on social media. Here are 10 ideas and tips that I hope fit the bill and will be useful to people working on town centre regeneration.
- I asked Bernadette Rushton from Rotherham Council what advice she would give people working on town centre regeneration. She said: “Make sure your strategy is based on evidence.” Rotherham asked residents what would bring them back to the town centre. They said they wanted more independent shops – something different to what the malls offer. This gave them a clear strategy to work towards. Rotherham now has over 150 independent shops in the town centre and 92% of shoppers are satisfied with the independent shopping offer (versus 42% in 2009).
- Encouraging new businesses to the town is great for regeneration, but don’t forget about existing businesses. Keep them up to date with what’s going on and if you have any stats you can share with them about increased footfall to the area this will help them see that new businesses coming to the area can be a benefit to them rather than a threat.
- Vacant units can be livened up with artwork on the windows and doors. Rotherham ran a competition with local artists who hand-painted empty shops.
- In Market Rasen free wifi in the high street and market means that traders and visitors can get online.
- Hanging baskets in summer and flags in winter have made the high street look more welcoming in Market Rasen.
- Both Ipswich and Rotherham have used unique branding to publicise their town centre activities and events. This creates a separate, easily recognisable identity for the town, that isn’t linked to the council or developers, that local businesses can take ownership of.
- Ipswich’s select and collect means that small businesses, who might not have their own websites, can advertise their products online. Shops in Ipswich can put their products on the website and provide a phone number so that shoppers can order over the phone and then go to the store to collect their shopping.
- Councillor Michael Hyman from Altrincham has some advice for small towns: “Don’t try to compete with bigger places. Focus on what your town has that’s different. Altrincham can’t compete with the Trafford Centre but it can offer a more traditional shopping experience. We encourage a mix of uses for the town centre, not just retail.”
- Mentoring from experienced business people is essential for newbies. At The Maker’s Emporium, 30 artists, many with no retail experience, sell their products in a shared space. They get advice and training from a mentor to help them start their own business. Altrincham and Rotherham also offer a mystery shopping service to give feedback to small businesses on how they can improve their customer service.
- The Tourist Information Centre in Gloucester has recruited volunteers to greet coach parties and give them free tours of the town. This means visitors get to see places they might not have otherwise known about and get advice about where to eat and shop from a local.
You can find out more about what the towns have done on Pinterest.
I’ve still got one more place to visit – Herne Hill market in London – which I’m looking forward to seeing soon.
If you have any questions for the towns about their regeneration projects I’ll try and get the answers for you.