Tag Archives: high streets

10 ideas and tips for town centre regeneration

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.

  1. 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).
    Whistle Stop sweet shop, Rotherham
    Whistle Stop sweet shop, Rotherham

    Miele Italian Deli, Rotherham
    Miele Italian Deli, Rotherham
  2. 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.

    Orb Gallery, Southampton
    Orb Gallery, Southampton
  3. 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.
  4. In Market Rasen free wifi in the high street and market means that traders and visitors can get online.
  5. Hanging baskets in summer and flags in winter have made the high street look more welcoming in Market Rasen.
  6. 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.

    All About Ipswich branding
    All About Ipswich branding
  7. 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.
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

    Treasure Seekers sweet shop, Gloucester
    Treasure Seekers sweet shop, Gloucester

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.

Why my local high street is growing on me

I don’t like my high street very much. If I’m not dodging chuggers and pigeons, I’m choking on clouds of cigarette smoke and gagging from the smell of the public toilets. Don’t get me wrong, shopping is one of my favourite activities, I just prefer to do it in a nice, clean, pigeon-free, chugger-free, smoke-free mall.

I felt like a fraud when I was asked to work on the High Street Renewal Awards, but I lead on digital communications for local economic growth so I had no choice but to start tweeting about supporting local businesses.

It was only when I started visiting the High Street Renewal Award winners that I began to buy in to what I was tweeting. Seven teams in different towns around the country are using government funding to help improve their town centres. Many of them are volunteers with full-time jobs who are giving up their spare time to help because they care so much about their communities. They won funding to put towards their regeneration projects because they came up with the most innovative ideas.

My original brief was to visit the winning teams, find out what they’re doing and share it on social media so that towns that didn’t receive any funding can learn from those that did. I decided to use Pinterest to showcase the different projects as it’s a nice way of including images, video and links to local websites on a map.

I was hoping to be able to share some low-cost ideas but I’ve found that most of the projects require a huge amount of planning, collaboration and funding from multiple sources. I’ve had to rethink my objective and have decided to try and get towns talking to each other online so that they can share experiences and learn from each other.

I still can’t resist the lure of a shiny shopping mall, but I’ve started giving local shopping a go too now that I can appreciate how hard people are working to keep small businesses going.

Image: Billy Alexander