Vaccine rollout boosted high streets, as town centres shift away from retail-dominated model, research shows

Published 22 November 2021
Last updated 22 November 2021

High Streets Task Force report examines footfall data from towns and cities across England.

High streets in England bounced back more quickly after the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, new research from the High Streets Task Force shows.

The Footfall Review 2020-2021 also found that places with unique attractions and a range of services fared better since the pandemic than those focusing on high street retail.

The analysis of footfall data from 600 locations estimated that regional cities each lost 10 million visitors on average through 2020, while smaller places proved more resilient, with 100% of district centres and 44% of towns recovering their pre-pandemic footfall patterns by summer 2020.

Experts at the Task Force say the vaccine rollout is a key factor in a faster recovery of footfall levels following the reopening of non-essential retail on April 12, 2021 (+113% in the first week), compared to the previous reopening on 15 June 2020 (+63%).

Professor Cathy Parker, study co-author, Task Force Research Lead and Professor of Marketing and Retail Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Our analysis showed the reassuring signs of the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the pace and trajectory of footfall recovery. We can’t be complacent about public health and its crucial role in ensuring people feel safe in our town and city centres.

“We can say with confidence that small, local high streets have recovered quickest, and that towns with a defined sense of place and role beyond template retail have shown greater resilience.”

Reliance on retail slowed recovery

The study revealed that holiday towns and ‘speciality’ towns – those with attractions like heritage and green space – recovered at a faster rate than comparison retail towns that are reliant on their shopping offer.

In its report, 67% of speciality towns and 100% of holiday towns are classified as ‘recovered’, with 45% of holiday towns outperforming 2019 levels. No comparison retail towns reached their pre-pandemic footfall levels during this period.

Prof Cathy Parker added: “Covid-19 has made us think more deeply about why and when we visit high streets. Even before the pandemic we were making the case for a diverse, multifunctional and unique offer on high streets, and now this must be the active goal for many more towns, particularly those that are planning the investment of government funding.”

Evolution of towns and cities

The study examined how footfall patterns show the evolution of high streets in the years before the pandemic in England. It shows that between 2016 and 2019, the number of comparison retail towns - more traditional shopping centres - fell by more than 60%. Of these towns that changed their role or defining function, 55% shifted to a multifunctional type, offering a range of services in addition to retail, and 45% becoming speciality locations.

The report includes four case studies from towns and cities around the country – Brixton, London’s West End, Manchester and Newquay – with data demonstrating the range of impacts to footfall in these different locations and the important role that local place managers and leaders play in responding to these changes.

Support for high streets

The High Streets Task Force provides training and data to place managers and has a programme of footfall counting and analytics that is being rolled out across the country. Its footfall dashboards provide models of annual, monthly, weekly and daily footfall for any town centre location, to support decision making and monitor economic recovery.

Local councils and other place management organisations can sign up for support with footfall analysis from the Task Force by visiting

Download the Review of High Street Footfall

Download the executive summary:

Executive summary [PdF]


Download the full report:

Full report [PdF]