The ‘changing’ purpose of shopping centres?

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We are living in unprecedented times. Experts are trying to predict what a post pandemic future could look like for the retail environment but then a new strain comes along and the predictions start again.

Pre-pandemic there was much talk about the changing face of the High Street, Shopping Centres and Retail Parks. Creating a mix of retail, accommodation, office space and leisure as opposed to what was previously distinct areas for each activity. Could we be going back to the future by creating communities around shopping centres, with similarities to the new towns of the 1950’s and 1960’s, with travel hubs to create a greener environment by reducing journey requirements.

What the planners and authorities do need to consider is that footfall always has been a priority for retailers, be it High Street or Shopping Park, and creating the right environment to attract that footfall has always helped to justify the rent.

However, post pandemic, there are other considerations and a sense of community is becoming an important factor in how Shopping Parks, in particular, are engaging with the public.

Landlords had started the journey of filling vacant space with; hospitality & leisure from restaurants to trampoline parks and escape rooms, and converting areas to living accommodation, office space and hotels. This started the process of converting the Shopping Park from retail engagements to a destination for the whole family. And, converting unused areas, has brought the public physically closer and created the feel of ‘the local’ – the local shop, the local pub, locking the community in.

But what can also help the sense of community is including healthcare, GP surgeries, drop-in and walk-in centres. This is nothing new and specialist healthcare/private healthcare suppliers have been based in Shopping Centres/Parks for years. However, Local Authorities could now start to take advantage of engaging the public away from the town or city centre with their own help desk and drop-in centres at Shopping Centres/Parks. During the pandemic we have seen the NHS set-up mobile test and/or vaccination centres at venues frequented by the public. A great plan that has been employed by promoters for years – engage the public where they are as opposed to expecting them to make a journey or take time out of their day. By making this type of activity permanent rather than temporary would the Authorities create a greater/easier engagement with the public? Other activities such as play groups and nurseries could also take advantage of the space and community being built and in many cases would support parents with parking spaces and being away from busy roads making it hard to pick up.

Who knows, your local MP may also see value in basing surgeries where the public are!

Including, or building in, an element of flexibility would also support the goals of the venue, ensuring something new would always be coming along through the use of pop-up shops, kiosks in the malls or inclusion of promoters and traders. This element could also support the sense of community – flu jabs in October/November, pop-up laundrette or barber, lockers for parcel delivery or sharing Council Plans.

As previously mentioned, a travel hub could also be based at the venue, and the Shopping Centre/Park could then become the epicentre of a thriving ‘local’ greener community that attracts further investment and engagements.

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