Transformation Route Map
COVID-19 has seen businesses, communities and place leaders adapt, form new partnerships, take action and make plans for a different kind of future for high streets and town centres. This new Route Map from the High Streets Task Force captures this learning and will help guide regeneration plans.
To help places respond to the immediate impact of coronavirus, the High Streets Task Force adopted the COVID-19 Recovery Framework. Many cities, towns and high streets have used the framework to organise effort and engage businesses and the wider community in the response.
To reopen safely, changes had to be made in town and city centres in a short period of time. The High Streets Task Force has been tracking these changes (some are included in our COVID-19 Recovery: Best Practice Guide), and also reflecting on how change happens - and why it happens in some places faster than others.
The challenges facing high streets before COVID were already driving change and exploration of a ‘new normal’. The High Streets Task Force has synthesised this learning and ambition into a new framework: The Route Map to Transformation.
The following explains the role of the Route Map and why it is important. It concludes with access to a downloadable guide that will help you ask the right questions to understand what you should be reviewing for each step and illustrates these with a series of possible responses.
Transformation is happening
Transformation has started. Towns and high streets are being changed by a number of forces, many outside of your control. We can, and should, spend time planning for the future, but it is coming regardless. The key to successful transformation is thinking about what you can do now, practically, and making that happen, as well as thinking about what you want to make happen in the future. It is a mixture of the operational and the strategic.
There are four key strategies of place adaptation that are already in use by the Task Force (the 4Rs Regeneration Framework). As places responded to the crisis and prepared for recovery, their actions fell across each of these:
- New partnerships were formed and new ways of working established (Restructuring)
- New plans that people could believe in were made based on evidence and insight (Repositioning)
- Communication was significantly changed to engage businesses and community members, give clarity, promote responses and encourage debate (Rebranding)
- Actions were taken, new opportunities and approaches were adopted, street changes were made in rapid time (Reinvention)
These four strategies that underlie the Route Map to Transformation were examined in the webinar series that supported the development of the framework. It is important to note that the path from recovery to transformation is not the same everywhere, but we have identified core elements that are required. Deciding what is the right Route Map for your place and developing that requires active place management and coordination. With coordination and place management you ensure you move from a collection of investments and actions onto a path of transformation.
Leadership and governance (Restructuring)
This is an essential step on the Route Map. COVID has brought all sorts of people and groups together working in a way they have not before. Build on these – use it as an opportunity to refresh town centre partnerships.
Perhaps new leaders have emerged – from the BID, businesses or from the community – make sure you include these people in your governance structures. Actively seek out those who are looking to make change happen. You will need new or refreshed partnerships, new working groups, some groups may combine – some may not come back.
Restructuring is also about assessing the need for physical change. This may have started with temporary changes to streets for social distancing and these may become permanent in time, perhaps changing the centre of gravity of your town.
Developing a collaborative vision (Repositioning)
Repositioning is about understanding how your place is changing and developing quality visions. The webinar series heard from Bill Grimsey about how inspiring visions should be. They need data and evidence, and lots of participation and engagement. Build on the changing attitudes we are seeing towards local retail, clean air, cycling, green space, home working and the like. We heard excellent examples of vision development from Paisley and Shrewsbury
People don’t want to go back to the old normal. How can you build a more ambitious vision, one that is inclusive, better serves its communities and sustainable?
How can you incorporate new data and evidence? How does this translate into strategies and action plans? How do you collect and collate data and evidence to evaluate your initiatives?
Engendering pride, commitment and attachment (Rebranding)
Rebranding is about identifying what is special about places and changing perceptions through communication. We heard about placefulness and how it builds attachment and loyalty. Increasingly we can understand how others see the town, what they love, what they like, what they criticise, through social media and this will allow places to amplify placefulness with hashtags and campaigns.
The emotional attachment people have to your place. What makes it special, unique. What do people value? The human and small scale, everyday attributes of places have been very important under COVID-19. It is also important to hear from critics, to understand their concerns and build consensus.
Diversifying and encouraging multifunctionality (Reinventing)
Reinventing is about changing the offer of your town. This means getting investment and identifying developers to deliver plans, or reinventing your town as a centre of local wealth creation, as we heard in the webinar series from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies.
It also about activating space and making things happen now.
Create your own Route Map
Developing your town/city’s Route Map
You need to have the right people and structures, the right evidence to make plans that people believe in, good communications to bring people with you – and to encourage debate too and an action-orientated culture – to change things and make things happen.
To help you through this process, the Task Force offers an editable Route Map that you can download and use in your town or city. This provides questions for you to use as well as an action plan to take your Route Map forward.
We also have a final webinar you can access with guidance from Cathy Parker, Research Lead for the Task Force.