The pandemic has brought about numerous changes to neighbourhoods, towns and cities, with place managers and leaders having been forced to deal with multiple challenges and setbacks, including significantly reduced footfall. As the focus turns once again on reopening high streets and commercial centres, reports last week suggest that the full impact of COVID-19 is 'yet to be felt' on high streets, with warnings that store closures may increase over the coming months.
A number of regional place management and development organisations have recently joined IPM to investigate how they can better help the towns and cities in their area both recover and, at the same time, build back better.
The institute offers a number of products to support partner members prepare for the future and we have recently enhanced this offer by developing new bespoke projects to help regional bodies, like county councils and LEPs understand their networks of towns and cities and how these are being impacted by COVID-19, review their policies to make them more relevant to town centre recovery and transformations, as well as build better partnerships with place managers and leaders within individual centres.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have facilitated workshops with both Derbyshire and Hertfordshire County Councils. Each interactive session has brought together between 30-50 stakeholders at both county and district level, providing a forum and focus to discuss place management and partnership working across the region and within each centre. The sessions have allowed participants to debate barriers and blockers to change and to consider priorities for the short, medium and longer term.
Later this month we are set to begin a 6-month event series with Warwickshire County Council, which will bring together a range of local partners across all towns, to identify the key factors that will influence the future of their towns and high streets and provide them with tools and insight to manage these changes and transform their offer. This project will also link to the many resources that are provided free of charge through the High Streets Task Force website.
Working with and discussing these projects with our new regional members has highlighted the great work that is already being done to aid recovery and to future proof our high streets. However, it has also identified that regional bodies benefit from some assistance to help them develop more of a ‘place-first’ mindset that ensures their policies, investment and interventions are really relevant to the needs of the individual places in their area. COVID-19 is giving us all the opportunity to re-evaluate and refocus our efforts – so it is encouraging to see regional bodies be so willing to reflect on their role in place management and leadership – and how they can play more of a supportive and facilitatory role going forward.