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Bringing Big Data to Small Users (#BDSU) is a collaborative research and development project led by retail intelligence specialists, Springboard, and involving the Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, MyKnowledgeMap, and other key partners.

It is working to develop effective tools that enable policy makers, retailers, retail property owners, and local partnerships to use data to make informed and collaborative decisions about the future of town and city centres. The first two years of the project were co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency but from 1st August 2018 the project moved into Phase II with funding from Manchester Metropolitan University, Springboard and the Institute of Place Management.


Town and city centres have changed in many ways over the years in response to technological, societal and other advances, not least the development of out of town shopping. That change continues as the UK leads the world in its adoption of online retailing. This growth is rapid and it is difficult to foresee with any degree of certainty what it will mean for the future of town and city centres, and potentially for society as a whole. Will all centres be equally impacted or will change vary depending on the scale and nature of the centre? What impact does a centre’s location, both geographic and in relation to other centres, have? Does the size and nature of its catchment matter? What other factors might make some centres better suited to thrive in the future? There are many similar questions.

#BDSU builds on work already undertaken by several of the partners in the High Street UK 2020 (HSUK2020) project which was part funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and which identified 201 factors from the academic literature and feedback from 10 partner towns that have an impact on town centre vitality and viability. HSUK2020 worked with experts using the Delphi technique to rank these factors in order to identify which are the 25 most significant in terms of impacting town centre health and being subject to local initiation or control.

As part of the project we have been able to look at footfall (pedestrian flow) data provided by Springboard for some 150 town and city centre locations across the UK gathered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in some cases for over 10 years. Analysis of this data revealed that not all centres are used in the same way and some distinct footfall signatures could be detected. This is important as it suggests that towns used in different ways may need different initiatives to maintain their vitality and viability. This data also suggests that towns with more defined signatures were more robust in terms of maintaining footfall. We are now in the process of sharing the footfall signatures with locations that use Springboard to gather data.

#BDSU is now developing evidence-based forecasting tools that can be used by town centre partnerships, BIDs, Local Authorities, policy makers, retailers and the property industry to enable better decision making in respect of town and city centres.

The project started on 1st August 2016 and was co-funded by Innovate, the UK Innovation Agency until July 2018. The current development work is supported by Manchester Metropolitan University, Springboard and the Institute of Place Management. We will be posting regular updates throughout the course of the programme. If you want more detail on the project, please contact IPM Director Simon Quin via


Latest updates:

We shared our research findings and the development of the dashboard with town centre partnerships, BIDs and local authorities at a conference in Manchester on 26th July 2018. The event was opened by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Research and dashboards presented to UK Government's Future High Street Forum.

Summary of research published in The Conversation and republished by other media. Five ways to save Britain's struggling high streets.

Full findings of High Street UK 2020 research, the forerunner to this project, published in Journal of Place Management and Development and available free of charge.

A new classification for UK towns and cities based on activity has been identified by the project. UK centres fall into one of four types based on patterns of annual footfall (ped count). These are comparison, holiday, speciality and convenience/community. We think understanding this has profound significance for the future of a centre. Read more about the new classification here.

We have launched Version 2 of the dashboard prototypes for our BDSU users. Click here to access.


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