As the attention of local authorities starts to turn towards the easing of the current COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, some of their focus is looking at strategies to help restart local economies and ways to encourage people back into town centres. At the same time, these strategies must respect the constraints that on-going social distancing is likely to require.
Our local high streets were already suffering before this crisis, and the lockdown will undoubtedly cause additional pain to many local shops and cafes. Yet, post-lockdown, restrictions are likely to remain and the idea of encouraging large numbers of people back into town centres to support retailers is hugely problematic.
If we are to support the re-emergence of our town centres as viable community hubs and activity centres, I believe part of the solution is that we are going to need to shift rapidly to an alternative offer with unique experiences forming a greater part of the mix to attract people.
Traditional methods such as organising major events and festivals are likely to be very difficult, if not impossible - certainly without major restructuring. Similarly, marketing town centres in their own right based upon their retail offer will be difficult when there are fewer retailers and more empty shops. I think we will need to come up with new alternative ideas.
The potential for digital walking trails to form part of the mix seem like a sensible idea. Walking trails still respect the need for responsible social distancing, but allow people to venture out and enjoy their local area. They would allow people to connect with their neighbourhoods and town centres in new ways; potentially enjoying a coffee or some shopping at the same time. Themed trails based upon local history, art or other fun themes could be created to help achieve this and at the same time support with health and well-being through exercise and culture.
It is not the only answer, but as part of the mix, I think it could help.
Even before COVID-19, Chronicle was working to support place shaping in local areas via its digital walking trails platform. The platform allows people to seek and discover locations, uncover interesting information and enjoy quizzes. It's early days but we already have a few trails around Suffolk and are rapidly developing more. The platform allows new trails to be added swiftly and easily.
Please contact us if you would like more information.