Co-op retailers can be key players in the revitalisation of city and town centres.
To attract people and investment town and city centres must offer more says Professor Leigh Sparks, of the Institute for Retail Studies at Stirling University. And a shift in focus towards meeting community needs is central to ensuring that town centres keep pace with changing habits and lifestyles.
The Professor, who will be speaking at the Co-operative Retail Conference on 4 March, said: “Why have we fallen out of love with our town centres? There’s a whole series of reasons, not just retail related, but retail can be part of the solution. Co-ops fit into this by nature of being very community focused.”
Leisure and entertainment, public services and other private businesses all have a role according to Professor Sparks. He added: “The issue (of town centre decline) is seen as a retail problem. I don’t agree. Look at everything that has been decentralised – not just retail. We have to give people reasons to visit and stay in town centres.”
"Co-ops fit into this by nature of being very community focused." Professor Leigh Sparks
The recent decline in the popularity of large hypermarkets and out-of-town centres has been well documented – but have traditional retail centres enjoyed a resurgence? Professor Sparks said: “People shopping patterns have shifted and we are falling out of love with some out of town centres and hypermarkets.
"There’s a bit of a rebalance going on but I wouldn’t want to overstate that. The opportunity this brings is a refocus on convenience and community.”
The Professor will be examining the conclusions to and impact of several reviews on town centre decline – including those by Portas and Grimsey – at next month’s Co-operative Retail Conference. And crucially, there will be a focus on the potential role and impact of co-op retailers.
He added: “Far more understanding about the needs of the local community is required. If you think about the hypermarket revolution the larger stores influenced consumers to adjust their lifestyles. Now supermarkets and convenience stores are reacting to suit changing lifestyles and needs.”
Professor Leigh Sparks' session at the Co-operative Retail Conference, on Sunday 6 March, is titled 'A (Retail) Sense of Place'. Click the links for conference updates, programme information and bookings.