Our editor on how town centres will take on a ‘different shape and feel’
The readership of this magazine is primarily those from South Yorkshire – or the Sheffield City Region to give it its mayoral combined authority name – so here’s a question. When did you last visit a local town or city centre?
Answers to this are obviously skewed by the pandemic, and the chances are you will have been in to a town centre for one reason or another occasionally over the past six months or so.
But what I mean is, the regular visits. Whether that’s for work, for retail, for socialising, for entertainment.
Again, I’ll caveat my original question with the fact that the last year has been anything but normal and even in the periods of relaxation of restrictions it still wasn’t conducive to businesses being able to go full throttle.
The reason why I ask is that as we work our way through the roadmap set out by Boris Johnson more and more of our day-to-day normalities in town centres will come back on stream.
But will they? And, crucially, will we want them to?
If you have been working from home for more than 12 months how do you feel about the morning and evening commute? Sure, you’ve missed your colleagues and deep down you know you’re more creative in an office environment surrounded by like-minded people, but do you really want to lose an hour at each end of the working day?
And if you feel like that, then you can guarantee that millions of other people will have similar thoughts.
So, businesses will adapt. Maybe not to the extreme of closing down their offices, but maybe downsizing, providing flexibility for teams to meet but to primarily base themselves at home.
It’s been a popular discussion to have about what new working arrangements will look like. Well, it’s nearly here folks.
Add that to closures of major high street stores like John Lewis in Sheffield city centre and questions begin to be asked about what will our centres look like.
I think people picture wastelands of empty retail units and office blocks. For a time, this may be true.
But already our centres are taking on a different shape and feel. City and town centre living is hardly a new concept, but people will want a higher-quality of existence.
More open space and areas to relax are needed. This may mean that some buildings are demolished to make was for parks and plazas. For me, that’s a positive step.
Sheffield has ambitious plans for its Heart of the City development. And Rotherham has set its course for making the town centre a place to live and bring up a family.
Our city and town centres are changing. For some people this will be hard to take, for others it’s a sign of progress.
Either way – just like we have for the past year – it’s a reality that we have to deal with and make the best of.