Social distancing in public places

Professor Cathy Parker, Research Lead of the High Streets Task Force, looks at social distancing in public places, including how to consider capacity for distancing, and practical approaches as town and cities change under new restrictions.


This article has been created by independent experts on behalf of the High Streets Task Force. It is not intended as Government guidance and we have not sought approval for it to be so.



In this slidecast video, Professor Cathy Parker provides a guide to some key principles of social distancing - supporting place managers to tackle a situation that they have never faced before.

As the new measures change how people behave on high streets, those in charge of rethinking spaces must first understand how they will be used and then consider flexible and considerate interventions that help provide the best experience. To support this thinking, Cathy discusses four key areas:

  • Government guidance for distancing in England 
    Although not applicable outside of England, this guidance does provide relevant principles for place managers considering plans to adapt public places for COVID-19.

  • The changing 'centre of gravity' in towns and cities
    How does social distancing and new behaviours change the focal point of your town or city? And how can you assess this before taking action? Cathy provides the example of her own home town, Macclesfield, as a case study.

  • How you can calculate capacity for social distancing in a place
    Just how many people can you fit in your town or high street? Cathy introduces new research on how much space each individual requires, and the concepts of 'dynamic' and 'fixed' space, based on work by the Institute of Place Management and Cardiff University

  • Practical guidance on implementing social distancing 
    Finally, Cathy examines some actual good practice and example interventions put in place by towns and cities to implement social distancing.

This resource is relevant to the 'Recovery' stage of the COVID-19 Recovery Framework