Anchor, belong, connect: The future of town centres

This 2021 report from the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR) considers the recovery and future role of towns centres, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on expert meetings, interviews with town centre stakeholders, and analysis using a Town Centre Vitality Index, the report outlines a vision for the future of town centres, revolving around their capacity to anchor value, create community belonging, and connect people and places.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about major changes to people’s experiences of town centres and high streets, as well as accelerating some of the trends and changes they were already facing before the crisis. This report presents a vision for the future recovery and transformation of English town centres, based on the work of the Liverpool City Region Town Centres Commission, including interviews with town centre stakeholders, analysis using a Town Centre Vitality Index, and meetings between the involved town centre experts, who discussed (p.5):

  • How town centres support a sense of place and belonging.
  • How policy decisions on the environment, planning, and infrastructure can best support town centres.
  • How town centres can operate as hubs for business and civil society.
  • How town centres can respond to Covid-19 during the crisis (and how they’re already doing so); and
  • How town centres can prepare for the recovery from Covid-19.

Through the project, three key roles of town centres were identified as being crucial to their recovery from the pandemic, as well as future transformation, as outlined below. Recommendations for enhancing each of the three aspects are also provided in the report.

Three key roles of town centres

 Anchor

  • Town centres serve their communities by meeting and anchoring social, economic, and cultural needs.
  • During the pandemic, local centres have provided essential shopping, information, and spaces for leisure.
  • It is important to consider, not only how town centres generate economic benefits, but also around health and wellbeing.

Belong

  • Town centres play a crucial role in creating a sense of community belonging and identity.
  • The unique history and identity of places should be preserved and maintained.
  • Town centres should reflect the diversity of the local community through things like inclusive design and citizen participation in collaborative decision-making.

Connect

  • Town centres are important community hubs and places for people to come together and socialise.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted connections between people and places, and it is important to restore a sense of confidence in using centres.
  • The crisis has highlighted how centres can connect people with places in new ways, by making them multifunctional hubs of community activity and services, more walkable, with more open spaces and affordable town centre housing.

The report concludes by considering the key challenges and opportunities facing town centres both within the Liverpool City Region and beyond, informing their future trajectory, including the need for multifunctionality, place distinctiveness, and partnership working.