Anchors - 25 'vital and viable' priorities

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. This resource introduces the 'Anchors' priority - why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

What are the 25 vital and viable priorities? 

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. 

The framework was created by experts from a range of disciplines and other stakeholders to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge and broadening real-world understanding of the changing nature of the high street. 

The 25 priorities are practically orientated and, given their ability to be controlled or influenced at a town level, are fairly internally focussed. For each of the priorities you will find an introduction to evidence that describes the priority, suggests what it covers, discusses how it might be implemented and the level of control associated with it. 

Additionally, you will find suggestions of what the priority could mean for implementation during the COVID-19 recovery stage. 

Factors included in Anchors 

Single factor: Presence of anchors that give locations their basic character and signify importance 







8th out of 25 

4.10 out of 5 

Highly Influential 


12th out of 25 

3.48 out of 4 

Potentially controllable 

25 Priorities 

8th out of 25 


Very high priority 


A high street anchor can be described as any type of attraction or infrastructure that increases, through its name and/or function, the presence of people (footfall) at the high street and the surrounding areas. Traditionally, an anchor has predominantly been a term synonymous with retailing, whereby a larger retail store, supermarket or a famous retailer could strengthen a centre’s retail offer and thus increasing linked trips and pedestrian activity (Wrigley et al., 2009). However, an anchor can also be a busy transport interchange (train and bus stations), a large employer (hospital or university), or a social anchor (professional sports club or community centre) that “acts as a support net to develop and maintain social networks and social capital” (Clopton and Finch, 2011, p. 70). 

Why does it matter? (Influence) 

An anchor within the high street is an important element of competitiveness and attractiveness, and is seen as a vital element in ‘sustainable development’ plans for locations. In terms of retailing, a variety of shops and retail formats can act as anchors by supplementing and enhancing the retail offer and the centre’s overall diversity. For example, convenience stores can complement the offer of small supermarkets or specialist independents (Wrigley et al., 2019). Additionally, pop-up shops, cafés, libraries, galleries, or pubs, are also valuable as anchors of retail regeneration and social capital as they constitute inclusive spaces that can combat the social isolation created by retail, economic and planning blight and can cultivate and boost communities (Hubbard, 2019; Jones, Comfort, & Hillier, 2016). 

An anchor can also be related to leisure or entertainment activities, as these are increasingly gaining importance as centres work to develop their non-retail offer (Guimarães, 2019), or simply to transport hubs, such as train stations that accommodate an enormous volume of commuters and allow for complementary activities such as takeaway eating and convenience shopping. 

In university cities, students are attracted by the name and status of the institution. The subsequent allure of city centre living, allows for multiple businesses to benefit from the influx of students, even though sometimes to the detriment of the established population due to extensive gentrification (Tallon and Blomley, 2004). Sports clubs and stadia are also important attractors of tourists and other visitors, and can also function as social anchors that attract numerous followers to the high street as part of the experience and atmosphere associated with sporting events that generate feelings of community (Steadman et al., 2020). Social anchors can also help towards bridging social capital, by reinforcing ties with similar-minded people and promoting network extensions (Alonso and O’Shea, 2012).

What can you do about it? (Control) 

The nature of the anchor depends on the type of town, but their role as a key footfall driver makes a major contribution to the image of the location and to its use. Place managers must ensure that the role of the anchor is recognised by other businesses in the town. This was, the process of reinventing the high street can be more organic, as in the case of Altrincham, where the process was anchored by the redevelopment of the indoor market-hall, which subsequently attracted new businesses around the area and boosted footfall and centre image (Theodoridis and Ntounis, 2017). 

Additionally, place managers need to develop marketing on the back of anchors, so that anchors can become major trip attractors and generate high levels of spill-over trade effects via linked trips, as well as become a central hub for community and social bonding (in the case of more socially-oriented anchors). It is important to try to enhance social activity around anchors, as this can translate into added value in terms of time, experience, enjoyment, and money spent in the town centre (Wrigley and Lambiri, 2014). 

Anchors and COVID-19 

Anchors can include key department stores, pharmacies, street markets, museums, etc. and they drive footfall to a centre. During lockdown anchors have not been fulfilling this function, nor is it appropriate that they do so. However, place managers should consider what particular needs anchors have during the crisis stage and beyond. 

These needs will vary greatly according to the anchor. The needs of department stores, for example, struggling to stay in business, will differ from those of a local museum. Place managers should consider the anchor’s funding sources or centres of profitability, audiences, communication methods, adapted delivery models and security concerns and how these can be supported with local programmes, communications and on-the-ground assistance. 

Place managers should contact those responsible for operating anchors to understand the specific needs and long-term plans for them. In some cases, elements of a support plan may be developed and managed locally. You will need to plan for different scenarios and the likely impact this has on your recovery plans in the case of leisure and entertainment anchors such as cinemas, theatres, and music venues. 

In the recovery stage, place managers should ramp up promotion of anchors prior to reopening and include them in plans to relaunch the high street, whether they are open or not. It is also key to understand what changes are being made in your anchors’ operations, and if necessary, design action plans for the temporary and future use of empty buildings of the anchors lost due to the crisis. 

In the transformation stage, most anchors are likely to be community-led, run cooperatively, and will satisfy the social needs of the people that use the space. Pre-existing publicly run anchors, including those of architectural, historical and cultural significance will need to be supported in their possible funding applications as part of a holistic place strategy. 

See also 

Activity; Experience; Attractiveness; Walking 


Alonso AD & O'Shea M (2012) “You only get back what you put in”: perceptions of professional sport organizations as community anchors. Community Development 43(5): 656-676, 

Clopton AW & Finch BL (2011) Re-conceptualizing social anchors in community development: Utilizing social anchor theory to create social capital’s third dimension. Community Development, 42(1): 70–83. 

Guimarães PPC (2019) Shopping centres in decline: analysis of demalling in Lisbon. Cities 87: 21–29. 

Hubbard P (2019) Enthusiasm, craft and authenticity on the High Street: micropubs as ‘community fixers’. Social and Cultural Geography 20(6): 763–784. 

Jones P, Comfort D, & Hillier, D (2016). Surveying the pop-up scene. Town and Country Planning, December, 533–537. 

Steadman C, Roberts G, Medway D, Millington S, & Platt L (2020). (Re)thinking place atmospheres in marketing theory. Marketing Theory. 

Tallon AR and Bromley RDF (2004) Exploring the attractions of city centre living: evidence and policy implications in British cities. Geoforum 35(6): 771–787. 

Wrigley N and Lambiri D (2014) High street performance and evolution: a brief guide to the evidence. University of Southampton. 

Wrigley N, Branson J, Murdock A, et al. (2009) Extending the Competition Commission’s findings on entry and exit of small stores in British high streets: implications for competition and planning policy. Environment and Planning A 41(9): 2063–2085. 

Wrigley N, Wood S, Lambiri D & Lowe M (2019). Corporate convenience store development effects in small towns: Convenience culture during economic and digital storms. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 51(1), 112–132.