What does the Future Highstreet Fund mean for retailers?
It’s increasingly difficult to know just what intervention is needed to rescue the British high street and to re-invent the thriving, bustling community-focused centres of decades gone by.
Government funding boost
The government believes the answer, or at least part of it, could lie in a significant funding boost and so in the autumn of last year, announced a further contribution to the Future Highstreet Fund, taking its total to almost £1bn in the form of a regeneration fund. 100 towns and cities will benefit from this fund, which is intended to breathe new life into struggling high streets across the country by transforming abandoned buildings into shops, houses and community centres. It is hoped that the funding will attract commercial investment and support wider regeneration of the chosen locations, as well as improve transport links and other local infrastructure.
Specifically, the Fund will mostly be used to fund capital projects such as:
- Improving transport access to town centres
- Improving vehicle and pedestrian flow in town centres
- Congestion relieving infrastructure
- Infrastructure to facilitate new housing and office space
- Projects that seek to substitute under-used and persistently vacant retail units into residential units.
The remainder of the Fund will assist local areas to produce long-term strategies for their high streets, and will fund a new High Streets Taskforce that will provide expertise and practical support to the successful bids.
“Those who are brave enough to embrace technology and innovation within their brands, incorporating the likes of artificial or virtual technology, integrated journeys between offline and instore and greater degrees of personalisation thanks to richer, better quality data are the ones who will absolutely thrive”
So, what does this mean for retailers?
While online retailing sits steadily at around the 20% mark, it shows that there is still more than enough room for traditional retailers within city centres. What the recent slew of store closures and brands going into administration shows is that there is little tolerance for big brands who aren’t prepared to listen to their customers and invest in a more experiential offering. Retailers who are willing to understand their customer journeys and create an in-store experience that delivers this are the ones who will be most welcome in bricks and mortar form. Those who are brave enough to embrace technology and innovation within their brands, incorporating the likes of artificial or virtual technology, integrated journeys between offline and instore and greater degrees of personalisation thanks to richer, better quality data are the ones who will absolutely thrive.
All of the current research points to the need for brands to listen more and respond to what their customers want. From creating a more seamless and holistic shopping experience to providing more data about the origin and provenance of goods, retailers must work harder to attract new (and existing) customers back into their stores.
Supporting the town planners
The Future High Street fund has the potential to make this a little easier as the answer to a problem that retailers alone can’t solve. By investing in the wider community and vicinity, the fund will allow town planners to think more holistically about the constituent parts of the centre, blending retailers, food and drink outlets with community buildings such as doctors and libraries and seamlessly combining this with office, leisure and even residential space.
The importance of the high street
What’s clear though, and the reason this investment is so welcome and needed, is that vibrant, busy and purposeful city centres are vital to most cities and towns in the UK. They act as a central community hub, bringing together communities and people of all ages and backgrounds, whether local residents or tourists and allow everything to be done in one place, from picking up milk or dry cleaning, visiting the dentist and buying an outfit.
With this, and key for many of the lesser desirable city centres today, is a boost in employment, in infrastructure and in facilities which is enough to break the cycle that many poorer locations have found themselves in. Over time, investment in these areas will be self-serving, generating appeal to make the effort to go into a city centre rather than an out of town retail park or large supermarket and therefore fuelling the need to increase the offering a city centre has.
The Fund alone isn’t the answer to Britain’s struggling high streets, but neither can retailers alone solve the problem of an under-invested and poorly designed city centre. Perhaps, however, they are both large pieces of this puzzle that when working together can actually start to make a difference for the people of over 100 towns and cities.
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