In the latest part of our look at the issues facing Silver Street in Durham, High Street expert Graham Galpin discusses how our town centres can be reinvented.

OVER the last two years we have seen the worst decline in “bricks and mortar” retail in living memory, writes Graham Galpin.

For most of us who keep this under the microscope, we had seen something like this contraction coming, but over ten or so years. Covid certainly changed things.

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The pedal is on the metal and the consolidation appeared much more rapidly than we foresaw.

The closing of shops like Debenhams and M&S on the High Street and the liquidation of Arcadia’s outlets led to many people to declare the death of in-town shopping, with people migrating online to get goods they want.

This online experience accounted for nearly 40 per cent of retail at the height of the pandemic but is now back down to a (still eye-watering) 25 per cent. Combine this with people using out-of-town shopping and hypermarkets then the story gets more challenging still.

However, as Mark Twain should have said “the death of the high street has been exaggerated” and towns where good place management is happening are seeing a renaissance in independent shops to fill empty units.

The independents offer a unique service experience and a range of goods that is different to the mainstream. Independent coffee shops are springing up, bars and restaurants are opening where people can meet.

The Northern Echo: High Streets and town centres need reinventing to avoid scenes like this in Silver StreetHigh Streets and town centres need reinventing to avoid scenes like this in Silver Street

This return of towns to their role as a community hub is to be welcomed. The town will inevitably change to suit the new reality and there are more tough times to come.

Inflation suppresses demand, Covid creates fear of shopping and a work-from-home culture which ironically can work for local centres but not so well for bigger towns and cities.

There are models for towns to recover from the Covid impact, whether through repositioning, reinvention, rebranding, or restructuring – the 4Rs of Place Management.

The re-invention of the High Street is still embryonic and needs a clear run, free from Covid restrictions. It needs enough staff to man the shops, prices fairly stable, people feeling secure and excellent town centres.

Silver Street is in that early stage of recovery, but I am confident that it will flourish in its new iteration. More of the stores, in greater variety, will have a click and collect facility offering that hybrid model of e commerce and bricks and mortar.

The Northern Echo: Graham GalpinGraham Galpin

This would not have happened without great leadership in the community, which seems to be in place. It needs to continue, and this applies to any and all towns in England.

In addition, but certainly not least, you the shopper/coffee drinker/service user, needs to be a part of your town, going out to support Silver Street. Go and support your local independent store and help secure its future. That way more good outcomes will happen.

* Graham Galpin MSc FIPM, is an expert member of the High Street Task Force and owner of Placechanger Consulting.

A Fellow of the Institute of Place Management, he has had a leading role in economic development for almost 25 years.

He served as chairman and director of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, the BCC accredited Chamber for Kent and Medway and is a member of the SELEP Business Advisory Board.

He was cabinet member for town centres for Ashford Borough Council for six years and drove the place-changing projects for Ashford, changing the perceptions to investors, residents and visitors alike.

His success in revitalising Ashford resulted in him being invited by the High Streets’ Minister to join the Timpson Panel which proposed the Future High Street Fund and the High Street Task Force. These were adopted and is successfully delivering change across England.

He left the council in May 2019 and has worked as an Expert Member for the High Street Task Force. He is a regular conference speaker on town centres.

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