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Market Town Awards 2010: Challenges for your town

By • Aug 3rd, 2010 • Category: Uncategorized

“What could you do to sustain your high street / town centre and what are the main challenges you face in your town?”

Town Challenges Wordle

These are the questions we asked delegates attending the Regional Market Town Awards Showcase events in June and July 2010.  The ‘wordle’ above illustrates the strength of the responses grouped by categories.  Below is a little more detail about the type of points made for the top 5 of these groupings.

1. retail-mix

  • Need mix of retailers to have a broad offer for customers
  • Need multi-nationals to pull people in
  • More distinct stores – “Can’t get elsewhere”
  • Too many cafe/hot food/take-aways and charity shops
  • Lack of non-everyday shopping

Related to this, there was also a significant number of comments recognising the impacts of retail competition from larger centres, out-of-town and online, as well as the need to re-use empty shops.

2. carparking

  • Traffic strategy/parking
  • Free town centre high street car park
  • Car parking costs often too high
  • No facility to unload coaches or park coaches

3. events-and-marketing

  • Celebrations/festivals/markets/promote cultural offer
  • Special events/annual events can help
  • Imaginative marketing
  • Promotion of integrated town offer, for example, tourism with local shopping

4. business-training-and-networking

  • Sharing experiences
  • Getting business to engage
  • Retailer awards schemes for: best shop display, best customer service, ‘personalising’
  • Networking schemes for independent retailers to promote best practice

In terms of challenges, a number of related comments could be categorised as recognition of the inflexible attitude and apathy of retailers.

5. public-realm

  • Retain original architecture
  • Clean public realm/open spaces
  • Enhancement Scheme – shop fronts and pavements, make it look more attractive
  • Tidy it up

Analysis and Conclusions

(Debbie McGrath, Towns Alive Programme Manager and Mike King, amt-i Senior Research Consultant)

Long-term issues
One notable first point from these responses is that the focus from towns is not so much on the recession as upon the long-term challenges of retailer apathy, property issues (rent, rates and restrictions), the poor retail offer, cheaper/better parking and the need for a better public realm.

A spirit of self-reliance
However, it seems from these comments that there is now a growing realisation that communities can do something about this for themselves, for example, promote the town’s distinctiveness, make use of empty shops, increase footfall through events, start loyalty schemes, hold festivals, improve marketing and so on.

Even in terms of public realm there is recognition that rather than relying on large capital projects, simple improvements such as cleaning and upkeep can help.   So David Cameron’s Big Society is already flourishing in the country’s small towns -but then we would expect nothing less at our Awards Showcase events!

Support through Towns Alive
There are obvious links from this feedback and apparent local activism to Towns Alive, for example, the Case Studies Database, Networking Events and Exchange Fund that help spread this good practice and enthusiasm.

Many of the topics covered in recent Towns-4-Towns events relate to the issues raised, for instance, empty shops (Thirsk, July 2009) public realm (Pocklington), loyalty schemes (Knaresborough), increasing footfall (Malton), improved marketing (Thirsk, September 2010).

A joined-up response
While the day-to-day challenges facing the centres of our market towns are clear from the 5 key issues identified in the summary of the Awards Showcase responses, it is interesting that none of the issues is mutually exclusive.  To improve a town centre we need to tackle each element in a holistic manner, for example, it is not enough to offer customers a healthy retail mix if car parking is inadequate or there is a lack of strategic marketing.

The huge increase (15 users in 2007 to 80 in 2010) in the use of the amt-i Town Benchmarking system and the current consultancy work that is ongoing in towns such as Princes Risborough offers evidence that towns are pursuing this joined-up thinking.

And a little outside assistance (from a familiar face!)
The Benchmarking and Town Centre Services ethos offered by amt-i is designed to help towns help themselves.  This is evident from its focus on helping stakeholders to develop an effective town centre approach delivered in a hands-on and systematic way by:

  • understanding what they have to offer (Benchmarking)
  • understanding their customers (Benchmarking, visitor surveys)
  • understanding when their town centre is being used (Benchmarking, footfall)
  • measuring the impact of projects (Benchmarking, business surveys, footfall, visitor surveys)

Find out more about amt-i services.

is As Online Communications Coordinator, Katie is responsible for the running of the AMT website and has taken the charity into the world of social media. Her particular focus is to expand and promote AMT's database of more than 400 case studies of town and community projects - regularly cited as one of the most valuable aspects of AMT Membership. Katie's previous experience ranges from PA to an internationally-renowned architect in London to Manager of the Responsible Tourism Awards for in Brighton. Katie works on Tuesdays and Thursdays and can be contacted at
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