Making change happen

Questions about how to initiate, maintain and monitor change in high streets

How do we start to make change happen in our town centre?


Individuals and businesses:  Many town centres have seen change result through individuals coming together to develop ideas or through local businesses working together on an achievable scheme such as a clean-up, putting on an event, launching a social media site, adjusting trading hours or developing an onine offer.

How can this go further? Make sure you tell others about your success and use this to grow your network. Groups and partnerships have much more influence and growth capacity to achieve things.

Often it is clear what the initial changes you can make are, but deciding what you should focus on next is sometimes harder. The Task Force has identified the 25 priorities that make town centres vital (active, busy) and viable (able to attract investment). Use our e-learning to find out why these matter and encourage others you are working with to also look at it. This will help you to identify and prioritise other actions. It will also highlight why you need to engage with others, such as the local authority, business and community groups, to really make significant change.

Local authorities, business groups, community groups, town councils: The scale and pace of decline in high streets has increased in recent years at a time when local authority capacity has reduced. Whilst it can be easy to identify a problem, charting a route forward is much more difficult. The Task Force offers guidance and support on this. Our e-learning on the 25 priorities for high street vitality and viability is supported by four other e-learnings on how to regenerate a town centre. These look at

How to change the offer on your high street and activate it (Reinventing)

How to change perceptions of your high street and encourage more communication to flow between stakeholders (Rebranding)

How to change the management and governance of your high street and plan for transformational change (Restructuring)

How to use data and evidence to underpin visions, strategies and plans that will meet the needs of your catchment (Repositioning)

Together these will help you to identify priorities for your particular circumstances and enable you to plan and prioritise. Don't forget that every town centre is different but you can learn from the experience of others.


How do you measure progress in town centre change?


It is important not to set aspirations too high. Change in town centres can take a decade or more but small early actions can prove that there are people who want something different to happen and are prepared to take action. Success with these initiatives can build momentum for wider engagement and widen the range of action that can be taken. But how do you show that something is changing? Whatever action you choose, even having a clean-up, you need to find a measure you can report on and share. How many people took part? How much rubbish was collected? How many places cleaned etc? Much of this can be done easily. Longer term measurement of change is also important and the Task Force recommends two key measures.

The first measure for the health of a town is footfall. How many people are using your town centre, when are they using it (time of year, day of week, hours of the day)? How is this changing over time and why? Not surprisingly the COVID lockdown reduced footfall in all town centres. As businesses reopen we are seeing a return of footfall. It is not even across the country or across town types. So there are national factors that influence footfall in towns, but you can influence it with local actions.

Footfall can be automatically measured every hour of every day as a commercial service, but if that is not for you, the Task Force has details on how and when to count footfall on a manual basis, and how a few counts can provide more detailed insight into your town.

Perceptions and reactions detailed on social media are another way of monitoring a response to interventions. The Task Force enables this through systems developed by Maybe*, one of the partners in the Task Force.


Is pedestrian priority/pedestrianisation a good thing?


A key reason for pedestrianisation or pedestrian priority schemes in the past was the level of pedestrian/vehicle conflict. Where busy places saw footway widening, vehicle restrictions at busy times or full pedestrianisation, this resulted in greater vitality for the town centre, providing the scheme was well designed. Examples are included in a report from Living Streets on the Pedestrian Pound. Some places, however, saw pedestrianisation as a response to a declining or failing centre and this rarely worked.

Today, we have other reasons to give more priority to pedestrians. Social distancing is requiring that space is available, otherwise the volume in the town or one way walking systems will deter visitors and reduce spend. We now know that reducing vehicles in busy town centres has significant health benefits and will be the future as we tackle the climate emergency. The latest consultation on the Highway Code (August 2020) is also proposing new rules to “create clearer and stronger priorities for pedestrians”.

Research over time has demonstrated the importance of good pedestrian access in town centres and it is a important contributor to town centre vitality and viablity. Now is a good time to test pedestrian priority schemes. They need to be flexible at this point as changes to social distancing may result in different demands for pedestrian space. The Task Force has guidance on the introduction and benefits of such schemes both on temporary and longer term basis. Have a look at our insight into tactical urbanism and the experience of pedestrianisation in Hackney.