St “Christmas” Place welcomes festive shoppers

With the sparkle season upon us, St Christopher’s Place has undergone a magical transformation into St “Christmas” Place – organised with the oversight of the Activate team – with retailers joining in the festive fun.

A chic corner of London, just off busy Oxford Street, St Christopher’s Place is filled with artisans and heritage brands. More than 80% of the scheme’s retail and leisure occupiers are collaborating with the scheme’s festive destination marketing campaign.

From special seasonal menu items at Hoppers and Harry’s to Christmas shopping and prizes to be won at the likes of Christy’s, Whistles, and The Body Shop, St Christopher’s Place will also be hosting a series of complimentary live holiday performances.

The timetable includes performances from The Samaritan’s Choir London, The Groove Chorus, The Jazz Dukes and Catie Mayne.

Our James Wall, General Manager at St Christopher’s Place was recently interviewed on BBC Radio London‘s Breakfast Show with Salma Al-Wardany as part of the programme’s Advent Calendar series, spotlighting free things to do and see this season in London.

James Wall,
General Manager,
St Christopher’s Place

In the interview, James said:

“For the second year running at St Christopher’s Place we have launched St Christmas Place. As well as the vibrant light display, we’ve got these amazing coloured disks that pour across the charming streets and then illuminate at night as the light bounces off them.

“To add to that this year, we wanted to really activate the space. So, as well as eating, drinking, coming together and doing some shopping, we’ve put some free activations on for the customers to enjoy, so on a Thursday and Saturday for the past month, we’ve been hosting various live musical performances: a jazz choir, a quartet, and we’ve even had The Groove Chorus, and the wonderful jazz singer Catie Mayne.

“One other thing we’ve done to layer on top of our live performances, is that we’ve brought snow to the whole event. We’ve got two wonderful snow machines and we flood St Christmas Place full of snow, to bring that real magical wow moment, which as you can imagine has gone down really well with everyone.

“Earlier this week, as an added bonus, we were able to invite a group of children from St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School to perform just after school, and it was wonderful to see them with all the parents and loved ones singing away. Again, we were able to create that wow moment for them by just covering them with snow, which they weren’t expecting, so it was really special.”

Listen to the interview here: BBC Radio London – Salma El-Wardany, 14/12/2023

Read more about the Activate service here.

How to make places that matter to people

With retail spaces sitting at the heart of our neighbourhoods, many developers, owners, and managers of retail property across the UK are now evolving their models to tap into the needs and interests of their own communities, in an effort to drive engagement and embed themselves into their local area, writes Emma Henson, Place Marketing Manager at Activate, Workman Placemaking.

Emma Henson, Place Marketing Manager

Shopping centre owners, including Hermes, Ellandi and New River, and their Workman onsite property management teams, are maximising opportunities to deliver services that both attract – and meet the needs of – local people.

By creating mixed-use destinations that meet community needs and aspirations, and by talking with and listening to local people, Activate’s Destination Marketing team brings places to life, helping buildings contribute to vibrant communities.

Family friendly: creating destinations for quality time

At Crystal Peaks shopping centre in Sheffield, Free Friday Family Fun Days were organised throughout the summer holidays in 2022; featuring free sessions to learn skateboarding and climbing, as well as inflatables and bouncy castles. More than 800 children and their families attended, creating a real buzz around the shopping centre and what it meant to local families.

This enlivenment was so successful that it evolved into the centre’s ongoing service: Game On family activities, where a vacant unit was converted into a free family game space including table tennis and football, chess, giant Jenga and Connect4 and other board games.

Centre owner Hermes funded the provision of the equipment, and the facility was opened in July for the summer holidays and then subsequently at weekends and holidays.

It has been hugely popular as a free way for families to spend quality time together, especially relevant during the cost-of-living crisis. The Workman centre management team has since liaised with local authority youth services team about using the space as a location for enhanced youth engagement in 2023.

Local movement: reaching out to schools and charities

Despite the threat of looming recession, many retail assets have increased their investment into social value in a bid to become part of the communities they serve, cementing themselves into the lives and minds of occupiers and consumers, not only by offering empty units to social schemes, focusing on local suppliers and employees, or creating new facilities for use by community groups, but also by reaching out to local schools and charities.

At New River’s Prospect Centre in Hull, the Workman onsite team worked with Parkstone Primary School to design flags for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in May 2022. The centre management team then returned to the school after judging the designs to advise on a winner from each age group and present prizes.

A local radio station attended on the presentation day to interview the winning children, and the local newspaper also showcased the work, which was exhibited in the shopping centre for people to view in the Prospect Gallery. This brought in many of the children and families involved, creating close ties with the local community and a halo effect for the centre.

How does Activate help retail schemes create social value?

Creating social value often involves using Placemaking, Destination Marketing and Enlivenment strategies to engage communities both within and around a development. When buildings support environmental, economic, and social wellbeing, they improve the quality of life of people using them by providing access to services and integration into the wider economy and society.

Across the Workman-managed portfolio, our Destination Marketing and Placemaking strategies are specifically designed to engage occupiers and visitors, to draw in the local community, and make buildings a part of the local community.

Social value creates a shared benefit for stakeholders from the private sector, public sector, and communities. Whether through the creation of local employment opportunities, the maximisation of commercial space, or the delivery of community programmes, the outcome should remain the same: positive social impact that creates change for good.

For more on Activate’s Placemaking and Destination Marketing services, contact Emma Henson, Place Marketing Manager

Summerscapes: more than 70% of retail and leisure occupiers at St Christopher’s Place sign up to 6-week destination marketing push.

With glorious weather and a steel band for good measure, the Summerscapes destination marketing campaign – in partnership with Activate – marks a six-week celebration of the summer season welcoming new dishes, offers and shopping experiences, as well as the opportunity to get creative with lunchtime art classes. A chic little corner of London, just off of busy Oxford Street, St Christopher’s Place is filled with artisans and heritage brands.  More than 70% of the scheme’s retail and leisure occupiers have collaborated with the campaign this year. Visitors can toast the blue skies with Cote Brasserie’s summery new floral cocktail, the Fleur Spritz, complete with St Germain elderflower liqueur. Or they could shop ‘til they drop to complete their perfect holiday wardrobe at Platform and Whistles. 

Across the Workman-managed portfolio, comprising more than 4,000 properties, our property management teams deliver great occupier experience through strategic engagement programmes and regular communication.

Here we meet some of the experts who lead our work to create a sense of place and community, particularly vital within multi-occupier buildings.

Richard Hart, Head of Property Management, UK and Europe

Having joined the firm through its renowned Graduate Scheme in 2007, Richard became a Partner in 2014. Today he’s responsible for the delivery of the property management service on behalf of both UK and European property funds, private clients, and investors including: LGIM Real Assets, CBRE Investment Management, CapitaLand and Segro. Richard works closely with clients to help maximise asset performance and value through a robust management strategy, with both ESG and customer experience at its core.

In recognising the importance of occupier experience in today’s commercial property spaces, Richard says: “We strive to meet the needs of modern occupiers, by ensuring that all properties in the Workman-managed portfolio offer stimulating, healthy environments that support occupiers’ physical, mental, and social wellbeing in an environmentally responsible way, while creating a sense of place and togetherness within the local community.”

Eleanor Newton, Senior Associate

A highly experienced property manager, Eleanor works closely with several prime office and campus sites within the Workman portfolio, including Westside in Hemel Hempstead and Republic in London. She uses her experience to build partnerships between landlords and occupiers through enhanced property management, focusing on operational excellence, wellbeing, and occupier experience to create environments which support personal and professional demands. Eleanor is also well-versed in the use of smart-tech and occupier-engagement apps to achieve building efficiencies and environmental targets.

Eleanor says: “Occupier engagement holds the key to successful and sustainable property management. Building strong connections with occupiers to drive change in how buildings are occupied is critical in the journey to Net Zero. To manage buildings safely and efficiently, it is more important than ever to understand occupancy patterns. Today, occupiers are looking to their landlords to meet their changing expectations, which landlords and property managers can only be aware of by working closely with them.”

Richard Price, Welcome Community Manager

Community manager Richard works to devise occupier experience and engagement and experience strategies for Workman’s Welcome portfolio. Working closely with the Welcome team and all front-of-house personnel, Richard leads communication and feedback programmes for individual assets and their occupiers, while delivering services tailored to their needs.

Richard says: “Our role is all about human connection; understanding exactly what occupiers want. In some buildings, this may be the delivery of a jam-packed programme of lunchtime events or bespoke wellbeing initiatives. In other buildings it may mean collaborating with occupiers to implement social initiatives with the local community, or we may be delivering any combination of these. Our ultimate goal is that occupiers get exactly what they want from their space and service, delivered seamlessly.”

Monika Newton, Partner

Passionate about customer service, Monika began her career in hotel management, a grounding which formed the bedrock of her drive to provide exceptional service for occupiers through Welcome, the Workman Offices service. Specifically designed to enhance the quality of the working environment and experience required by the modern office occupier, the Welcome team provides the highest level of customer service.

Monika says: “There is an interesting dynamic today in the landlord and occupier relationship; and with heightening competition between office landlords, the occupier experience in workspaces often becomes a deciding factor. Exceeding the expectations of occupiers directly contributes to our clients’ investment performance through improved occupier retention. We continually strive to evolve the customer experience, bridging the gap between traditional offices, flexible workspaces, and the home experience. The true point of difference now lies in collaborating with customers to co-create attractive workplace communities, which sit somewhere between a hotel and home.”

Andrew Sparrow, Director of Activate, Workman’s Placemaking team

Having previously managed the master planning and delivery of retail, office and mixed-use schemes across the country, including the Spitalfields Market Estate, Andrew has delivered a plethora of placemaking projects for a wide range of investors, developers, and local authorities. He advises clients on commercially viable solutions for transforming spaces into destinations that deliver dynamic occupier experiences. As Director of Activate, Workman’s Placemaking, Destination Marketing and Customer Experience team, Andrew is a specialist in enlivenment and placemaking strategy.

Andrew says: “Creating quality places where people want to live, work, and play is at the heart of the Activate service. The ongoing satisfaction and enjoyment of people utilising spaces is our top priority, so we are constantly working to generate spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing.”

Read more about our approach to Building Community across our managed portfolio.

How to make places help people to generate social value? Linking up with local councils, schools, and social enterprises can embed commercial property in the local area, helping buildings contribute to vibrant communities.

Sustainability does not begin and end with carbon reduction. The “S” of ESG – Social – has a huge role to play. The buildings in which people work, play, and shop define and shape their neighbourhoods, especially in cities, where they can have an enormous social impact upon communities. So how can investors and property managers ensure assets benefit both occupiers’ employees and the communities that surround them?

What is social value?

Creating social value involves engaging communities both within and around a development. When buildings support environmental, economic, and social wellbeing, they improve the quality of life of people using them by providing access to services and integration into the wider economy and society. Across the Workman-managed portfolio, our strategies are specifically designed to engage occupiers and visitors, to draw in the local community, and make buildings a part of the local community.

Great Northern: creating spaces that people fall in love with

Located in the heart of Manchester city centre, Great Northern is a mixed-use site, home to a cinema, bowling, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, shops, and public square. It takes its role as part of a wider community seriously, offering services to local businesses and residential areas neighbouring the site.

A new space, “The Village Hall”, is open to any business on site for meetings and training sessions. The Workman team holds meetings in the space, and it is used by community groups such as a female choir group, and a parents-and-tots group.

Separately, “Little Northerners” is fitted out as a free space for families aimed at pre-school children for active and constructive play with a dolls house, a tepee, and construction blocks. Once a week, the space is hosted by a Play Facilitator. This is next door to the “Book Nook”, a free book-swap library run by volunteers from neighbouring residential block Great Northern Tower and from Manchester University, who organise and alphabetise the books. The space is used throughout the day, with a turnover of 1000+ books per month.

Outdoors, a public amphitheatre area has been created in the square at the front of the site. For summer, this was transformed into a giant sandpit with 50 tonnes of play sand, buckets and spades, and a large, wooden structured playhouse, free to use at any time of the day. A Forest Tots practitioner runs free weekly play sessions, which see children pour into the area, accompanied by parents and grandparents observing from surrounding picnic tables and seating areas.

Owners Trilogy and Peterson Group were originally granted planning consent to develop the warehouse into apartments, but reassessed plans following the pandemic, so official redevelopment of the site has yet to begin. In the meantime, the use of the space – much of which has developed organically – has informed the future development plans. Many popular community initiatives will be carried forward as part of this new neighbourhood within city centre Manchester, as the site will retain its public realm areas alongside private residents-only or office-work-only areas.

Touchwood: reaching out to schools

Touchwood, the prime Solihull shopping centre, which features 80+ stores – including John Lewis – plus 20 bars & restaurants and a Cineworld cinema, was created to provide an environment that not only extended the retail, commercial and leisure offer of the town, but also integrated into the existing fabric of the area. The centre is owned by US real estate investment firm, The Ardent Companies and managed by Workman, whose onsite property management team regularly consults with community partners to run initiatives that involve, attract, and support the local community.

It has developed strong ties with local schools, most recently working in conjunction with Solihull Council to run a competition where local schools were invited to create a flag for their chosen Commonwealth country made of entirely recycled material. The 16 flags then featured as a trail around the centre, with visitors answering quiz questions as they identified each flag. The centre has also fostered links with a local special needs school, with three students attending each week to do work experience. One has since been employed as part of the centre’s housekeeping team.

Republic: collaborating with charities

A next-generation office and education campus spread over four buildings comprising 650,000 sq. ft of office and retail space, Republic is at the forefront of East London’s commercial and cultural regeneration. Brought on board by Trilogy Real Estate and fund manager LaSalle Investment Management, Workman’s role is to manage the property effectively, while also helping it become a part of the local community.

Its proximity to both the affluence of Canary Wharf, and Tower Hamlets where more than half of all children wake up in poverty, makes it an ideal base for City Gateway, a charity which provides education and opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, along with volunteering opportunities for corporate partners. The charity provides support services, training courses, Traineeships and Apprenticeships for young people, readying them for the workplace. Through a network of placements with world-leading employers, City Gateway provides opportunities for employment at Canary Wharf, Republic and beyond. Indeed, Welcome has already facilitated several Apprenticeship schemes within the Republic campus.

The site is also home to a female-run social enterprise café called Tati, serving Bengali fare. Supported by not-for-profit Oitij-jo Collecti, with backing from the Mayor of London and other partners, the women obtained hygiene certificates, worked in professional kitchens, chosen the café décor, and developed front-of-house skills, before selling meals to Republic occupiers on a weekly basis.

Silverburn: cleaning up the community

As part of environmental and community outreach work at Silverburn, Glasgow’s flagship shopping centre, the Workman property management team joins the quarterly litter pick in residential areas surrounding the 1,500,000 sq. ft site. Organised in conjunction with Glasgow City Council, the most recent effort took place on a clear sunny day and resulted in a big pile of rubbish collected by an enthusiastic team of volunteers. Since opening in 2007, Silverburn has historically generated consistently high footfall of 15 million people per year, boasting one of the highest average spends-per-visit thanks to affluent catchment areas such as Newton Mearns, Clarkston and Giffnock. With 125 retail and leisure units, the centre, owned by Eurofund and Henderson Park, is currently 80% occupied.

Further efforts to give back to the local community come in the form of official digital sponsorship of the Open Goal Broomhill FC football team. Always looking for creative ways to engage with its audience and customers, this partnership for the upcoming Lowland League season builds on an already established involvement with the team, including hosting its Keeping the Ball on the Ground show at Silverburn in 2019. This latest collaboration between Silverburn and the football club also draws in the Open Goal podcast team, who will film their popular football-dedicated podcast at the centre.

Read more about our approach to Building Community across our managed portfolio.

What lessons can office workspaces and retail assets can learn from each other when it comes to delivering the best tenant experience?

Retail and workplace assets alike are having to work harder than ever to  deliver the best tenant experience to encourage people through their doors. Over the years, the retail sector has deployed a range of strategies to increase footfall and improve dwell times, relying on events and enlivenment such as family days, character appearances, food, and music. Today, with so many schemes no longer able to depend on the same old national retail chains, they are instead looking to smaller, local independents to occupy space, while also exploring the value of markets, and food & beverage, as a way to attract customers and build communities.

Esther Worboys, Placemaking Manager at Activate, Workman’s placemaking team, explains that retail assets are learning from other sectors in areas including community outreach and sustainability. “This is something that business parks have been doing very well for some time, and now retail is starting to adopt similar aspects of ESG such as using their wider outdoor space to for environmental and social benefits for the local community.”

Initiatives like installing beehives on site are popping up at shopping centres and retail parks as a way of delivering ESG goals as well as engaging local schools and colleges. At the NewRiver REIT plc-owned Cornmill Shopping Centre in Darlington, the introduction of bees, bird boxes and rooftop allotments, have not only added to the centre’s biodiversity, but also created community links through Darlington College and donations of produce to the local foodbank.

Better tenant experience – Cross-fertilisation of retail and commercial strategies

As Michelle Atack, Activate’s Destination Marketing Manager points out, asset managers who operate across both retail and commercial can see the benefits of strategies at one kind of asset and are starting to ask for something similar on the other. “They’re watching each other and taking a little bit of experiences from the retail element into the workspace world and vice versa,” she says.

On the flip side, although other types of commercial property are not trying to encourage spend and dwell time, they are aiming to build a network and community. And while the measurables for ROI may be less tangible for workplaces, engaging with occupiers and understanding what they want out of those community links or experiences is just as important.

“Doing the market research and understanding what occupiers want is another area where office property has learned from retail. It’s vital to find out what a particular community of people want to get involved in before organising events and activities,” says Esther.

At Workman-managed business park Croxley Park, for example, the demand is very much for family-friendly events, where everyone is welcome. The annual Croxley Park Summer Social event now includes entertainment for families and children, including bouncy castle, a roaming magician, street theatre, a DJ, cocktail-making, table-scaping, and floristry sessions. These large-scale events – popular for years across retail assets – are now a common calendar event at many commercial properties.

Harness social media as part of the tenant experience

During the pandemic, social media came into its own for commercial properties. Long utilised by retail assets to build communities of shoppers, it was harnessed by workplaces including Workman-managed Republic and Moretown, which were keen to reach out to employees with exercise tips and wellbeing content.

Post-pandemic, this strategy is vital for engaging employees who may be working from home part of the week. Social media is also being exploited at sites which are building links with local schools and local community groups.

A sense of community

Working collaboratively with local key stakeholders and partners brings greater results, and helps build and strengthen long-term relationships. Whether retail or workplace, it’s clear that building a sense of community is key to the success of real estate assets.

Community should be at the forefront of both retail and office destination marketing strategies – and campaigns to keep shoppers and employees engaged – because communities bring a sense of belonging. Over time, these initiatives improve the greater good of the wider community which properties serve and support.

Read more about our approach to Building Community across our managed portfolio.

Months of successive national lockdowns provided consumers with the rare opportunity to accumulate high levels of savings (reaching nearly £75bn in Q1 2021, according to Statista). The ensuing summer of revenge spending brought customers back to shopping in their town centres. Now that summer is over, and with Christmas campaigns beginning against a media backdrop of inflation fears and predictions of shortages, our sector is preparing itself for the challenges of the coming months, writes Nick Hilton, Partner, Retail & Leisure, in Retail Destination magazine.

During the height of the pandemic, destination marketing quickly pivoted to digital-only strategies to maintain connections with customers and help retailers embrace click & collect, many for the first time. Digital campaigns built around creative content, seasonal interest and brand partnerships successfully helped build engagement, to the extent that for some centres, Facebook engagement increased by as much as 65% and website users by as much as 120%.

Digital gains translate to footfall growth

As locations began to reopen, destination marketing strategies evolved to incorporate hybrid physical and digital enlivenment. Average organic social media growth is at 44% per scheme so far in 2021, and website traffic for our schemes has generated more than two million visitors. These gains made in building digital communities has proven beneficial during re-openings, translating into real measurable footfall gains.

At one Leamington Spa centre, online content promoting a summer “Beats & Eats” event featuring live music on a small stage secured online engagement of more than 30%, which translated into footfall increases of 9% week on week. Results like these prove that strong online followings are a powerful tool in creating intent to visit physical destinations, especially important for reaching customers now accustomed to online shopping, or those still apprehensive of physical shopping.

Building on the continued trend of domestic tourism, creative events delivered in collaboration with the wider town centre or with retailers themselves added value to the customer experience. Response to these events is going from strength to strength, especially those such as “Walkden Into Space” which featured rocket, astronaut and alien statues, offering a socially-distanced selfie opportunity designed to drive footfall, while remaining cautious around physical contact.

Unique and engaging family activities during school holidays and weekends; alongside ticketed events that build consumer confidence via demonstrable safety measures, have performed particularly well. For example, for Halloween a ticketed escape room event for which participants stayed in their own groups, booked online, was organised alongside the usual pumpkin design and carving activities.

Tailor destination marketing to community need

Stronger digital communities also enabled centre teams to use their platforms to integrate communications plans with on-site management, ensuring customers were aware of restrictions and guidelines ahead of their visit, to manage expectations, provide clarity, and build confidence.

Balancing safety and wellbeing with customer entertainment and experience came to the fore during the remobilisation of retail. This meant adapting the marketing approach to reflect evolving operational requirements and budgets, while supporting brands, increasing footfall, and animating the retail environment.

With different regions experiencing varying levels of confidence amid continued uncertainty, this requires tailored marketing campaigns that respect local sentiment and reflect community needs. One centre felt confident enough to re-introduce workshop-based Halloween activities, while another has opted for a more cautious socially distanced outdoor approach featuring street theatre and stilt-walkers.

Digital-led marketing strategies have helped destinations retain customer interest, loyalty and engagement during the lockdowns and phased re-openings of the past 18 months. The Activate team, which produces more than 3000 pieces of digital content every month, has seen the value of quality and creativity in both digital and physical platforms. This joined up approach has kept destinations top of mind, building confidence, driving engagement, and reigniting loyalty among consumers.

To sustain the gains of summer into the Christmas shopping season and beyond, it is vital to leverage destination marketing in order to add value to the customer experience, and help local communities build confidence in their retail destinations.

By Nick Hilton, Partner, Retail & Leisure, Workman

A version of this article originally appeared in Retail Destination magazine

To find out more about the Activate Destination Marketing Service visit >

If you have a retail scheme, office campus or business park where the marketing needs to work harder, contact either Michelle Atack or Andrew Sparrow.

Despite lockdown and the intermittent opening and closing of retail, 2021 has seen our Activate Destination Marketing team grow rapidly.
As this infographic shows, the team is now engaging with local communities and driving footfall at more than 20 retail and leisure schemes across the country, while also taking their skills into other commercial locations.

Growing Destination Marketing in 2021
4 million sq.ft managed retail and leisure space
Managing over half a million pound marketing spend
20+ new instructions in 2021
Average organic social media growth at 44% per scheem so far in 2021
Website traffic generated in excess of 2 million visitors
3000+ pieces of digital content created and published every month
Our destination marketing services
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If you have a retail scheme, office campus or business park where the marketing needs to work harder, contact either Michelle Atack or Andrew Sparrow.

With footfall expected to rise, the need to regenerate, repurpose and enliven town centres is keenly felt by Local Authorities, commercial property owners and retailers, looking to capitalise on the projected resurgence, writes Esther Worboys, Activate Placemaking Manager and High Streets Task Force Expert.

Retail sales enjoyed a springtime resurgence, with growth in high street sales from April to June making it the best three months on record. Sales were up 28.4% from a year earlier and were 10.4% higher than in 2019, according to the British Retail Consortium, buoyed by June’s sunny weather, the Euro 2020 tournament and the vaccination programme.

PM Boris Johnson’s removal of restrictions on 19 July delivered a further boost to retail. And the latest forecast shows footfall in non-food retail stores will continue to strengthen over summer in the UK, reaching almost three quarters (74.5%) of its 2019 level in Q3 2021. The figures, from Ipsos Retail Traffic Index, show that recovery was strong over Q2.

The rapid rollout of vaccinations, steps that property managers and retailers have put in place to safeguard their customers and colleagues, a release of pent-up demand, and consumers spending household savings from the past year, have all contributed to retail rallying during April, May and into June, say Ipsos retail analysts.

Acknowledging that shoppers will continue to use both online and physical shopping channels, analysts highlighted the return of consumer appetite for shopping as a leisure activity. Dr Tim Denison, head of retail analytics and insight at Ipsos, said: “Consumer confidence continues to re-build, now standing at its highest level since the first lockdown, employment levels remain buoyant, and Britain is rediscovering its fondness for one of its most popular social pastimes.”

Now more than ever, the need to regenerate, repurpose and enliven town centres is keenly felt by Local Authorities, commercial property owners and retailers, as they look to capitalise on the projected resurgence towards in-person experiences including recreational shopping.

Local authorities are taking an active role in the repositioning of town centre environments, with collaboration between the public and private sector increasingly proving a force for positive change. The ultimate needs of town centre and high street users should inform thinking at the centre of planning, design, and management, and build positive relationships with local stakeholders. This creates a sense of belonging and establishes the location’s role in the community.

Activate expertise to rejuvenate public spaces and deliver footfall boost

Activate works closely with local authorities and public-private partnerships to provide placemaking consultancy advice as part of a variety of town regeneration projects. By researching the demographics of an area, engaging with stakeholders such as local businesses, residents’ groups, and with market traders, their evaluations form the basis of a target retail mix. The Activate team collaborates to provide potential layout and design of any future schemes, supported by financial projections.

Based on local research and insight, the Activate placemaking team provides concepts, feasibility advice, and detailed business planning for local authorities for their regeneration options. Typical projects include master-planning of town centre mixed-use schemes, the feasibility analysis of town centre market re-locations and concepts for the re-purposing of vacant commercial space.

The High Street Task Force expert view

Where there is scope for achieving unfulfilled potential in town centres and high streets, Activate is well-placed to offer key advice, drawing from the team’s broad experience, which includes insight gained through my role as a High Street Task Force expert.

In this role, High Street Task Force experts visit targeted town centres and high streets, where they work with community leaders to identify key issues hampering successful transformation, and ways to address these. Experts also consult with local authorities and stakeholders to help solve complex challenges, which may also include running workshops and brokering relationships within the local community.

The idea is to unlock the resource that already exists in the town, using a fresh perspective to break down barriers in order to implement the project, while also leveraging a wider base of skills and understanding garnered from experience on projects rolled out in towns across the country. It’s about facilitating efforts between stakeholders such as business leaders, the local authority and community groups; so they can overcome past hurdles to move forward and deliver their own local solutions that are right for their town.

Carefully created and managed partnerships, where lessons learned are used to create added value for town centres and high streets, can deliver social and economic outcomes, not just real estate development. As the Activate team demonstrates, when local government and the private sector work in collaboration, with guidance from placemaking experts, the results lead to places that people can be proud of.

Levelling-up towns across the regions

This contemporary approach to partnering is good for the economic and social vibrancy of towns, and plays into the government’s levelling-up agenda, which seeks to improve skills, create jobs, enhance townscapes, improve access to public services, and increase local decision-making responsibilities.

The Activate team is also collaborating with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, enabling Local Authorities to work in partnership with town centre property owners to access available funding, of which they may previously have been unaware. Making progress towards levelling up is about removing regional inequities and finding suitable pathways for everybody.

High street shoppers on a busy street in Glasgow summer 2018
High street shoppers on a busy street in Glasgow, summer 2018

Of course, simply agreeing a public-private partnership doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome. For these collaborations to work, they rely on strong leadership, a clear vision, quality and continuity of teams. There is a clear requirement for a bedrock of thorough research and preparation, and trust between partners.

It seems that significant challenges including the pandemic, Brexit and climate change have not stifled enthusiasm for town centre regeneration. The rise of localism proves that people want to feel safe in – and proud of – the places where they live, work, play, study, do business, and shop.

In fact, there is a growing appetite to bolster local infrastructure so that towns are resilient enough to withstand further economic, environmental, and social challenges that may be just over the horizon.

By Esther Worboys, Activate Placemaking Manager and High Streets Task Force Expert.

A quick blink into the sunlight after more than three months of lockdown shows that predictions abound for a rush back to shops and restaurants.

As consumers shake off lockdown fatigue and prepare for a summer of social activity, pent-up demand for a return to normality is set to spark a retail footfall rise of 48% when non-essential retail reopens in England from April 12, according to Springboard. The forecast increase means footfall will be 128% higher than the same week in 2020, although it will still remain 62% below 2019 levels.

In shopping centres and retail parks, which have maintained a steady flow of footfall during lockdowns due to their higher proportion of essential retail offerings, footfall is predicted to  rise by 46% and 26% respectively in the first week of reopening, says Springboard.

At the end of the first two lockdowns, footfall rose by more than 40%, yet greater increases are expected this time due to the success of the vaccination programme and the concurrent opening of retail and hospitality.

As shopping centre and retail park managers looked to keep their brands alive, they turned to destination marketing as an essential tool. And in the absence of live events, they have pivoted towards digital marketing and social media. Even in the case of significantly reduced marketing budgets, centre managers have been able to grab a bigger bang for their buck by leveraging the expertise of Activate’s Destination Marketing team.

How destination marketing will boost retail rebound for 2021

Many centre managers and retail real estate owners have reapportioned budgets to focus on digital engagement through social media. Their properties have benefited accordingly by remaining front of mind, and front of wallet, for consumers. Our Destination Marketing team works to research and present a menu of covid-secure promotional options, from which individual centres and retailers can select.

Campaigns around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter have kept customers interested, with online gift guides and creative video content designed to drive visitors to shopping centres and retail parks. A mix of content has been developed for a range of platforms, including animation and video for Instagram Reels, in partnership with individual retailers and sponsors, for promotions which are activated on site. These have included competitions to win an M&S Easter hamper, handouts of single red roses, chocolates, branded face coverings or hand sanitiser giveaways.

In one cost-effective campaign, designed to appeal to a regional audience for Vangarde Shopping Park, York, the marketing team achieved more than 17,000 engagements and 1700 comments from one single, simple post. ‘What do you call this?’ with the hashtags #Yorkshire and #Vangarde showed images of simple items such as a bread roll and a bath robe, and invited comments on their different regional names. This kind of engaging content, which has encouraged communities to use destination social media platforms, has kept the brand and its retailers alive and top of mind during challenging times, when many stores have had to remain closed. The key is to get online communities talking and create the intent of physically visiting the properties at the heart of any creative material or activation at some point in the future. Onsite teams across a range of properties have also been encouraged to create their own ‘welcome back’ video content, showing they are ready for customers to return.

Campaigns to suit properties large and small

Our Destination Marketing team is equipped to deliver projects to suit the needs and budgets of a variety of schemes, and work is designed to fit the demographic of shoppers and retailers within each property. While some schemes have benefitted from multi-channel marketing, incorporating radio and print campaigns, others have maximised a retailer-sponsorship approach. For example, when delivering messages around the covid-secure aspects of each site, the team has built in short, sharp, sponsorship tags for affiliate retail brands to ensure that they are driving the impact for those retailers that are open and ready for custom.

Many properties that feature restaurants with al fresco dining areas have been revamping these to be covid-secure. Here, we’ve worked directly with the restaurants to promote their rejuvenated outdoor space and used the content to include instructions about making reservations in the new seating areas, in order to drive bookings.

Looking ahead, the team is optimistic about real-life events at shopping centres and retail parks returning later in the year. In the meantime, it is also delivering marketing activations that provide social value, such as the #nochildgoeswithout campaign being run at The Core in support of a Leeds charity that aims to give every child in need an Easter egg.

As the big reopening on April 12th approaches, and customers become keen to visit bricks-and-mortar destinations as a leisure activity once more, it’s time to make sure all that footfall is heading in the right direction: towards your property.

By Michelle Atack, Digital Marketing and Events Associate, Activate

To find out more about the Activate Destination Marketing Service visit >

If you have a retail scheme, office campus or business park where the marketing needs to work harder, contact either Michelle Atack or Andrew Sparrow.