When COVID-19 came to town: Measuring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on footfall on six high streets in England

This 2021 academic article studies the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the footfall of six English town centres, which vary in terms of their characteristics. Based on Wi-fi footfall monitoring and secondary sources, the research found footfall rates fell between 57-75% as a result of the first English lockdown but recovered at different rates depending on centre type, with smaller centres more resilient.

Date added 9 November 2021
Last updated 9 November 2021

This 2021 academic article studies the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the footfall of six English town centres. The article explains how, even before the crisis, town centres were under pressure from the 2008 economic recession, rising operating costs, and changing shopping habits, which negatively impacted footfall. The authors argue that, “footfall measurements enable a dynamic understanding of town centre activity and offer a reliable proxy for assessing performance” (p. 2), which is why the project utilised footfall data to assess the differing resilience levels to the Covid-19 crisis, between different centre types.

The study analysed footfall data from a town centre monitoring platform called GEO-Sense, which collects data from Wi-fi sensors. It also takes into account temporal factors such as day of the week and public holidays, as well as the weather. The study analysed data from six English towns, ensuring a varied sample based on regional location, town type (e.g. industrial town, university town etc.), deprivation levels, and population size, in addition to having enough footfall data available. The six towns studied were: Hereford, Loughborough, Norwich, Nuneaton, Stockport, and Welwyn Garden City.

Based on the above, it was found that footfall rates in town centres fell between 57-75% as a result of the first English lockdown. However, the impact of the crisis, and ability to recover again once lockdown restrictions were eased, varied depending on type of centre:

  • Across the six centres, footfall reduced by 17% as the first Covid cases were confirmed, whilst the first national lockdown decreased footfall by an average of 68%.
  • With the reopening of non-essential shops after the lockdown, footfall remained 40% lower on average across the centres, than during the period before Covid-19.
  • The most resilient centres appear to be Nuneaton (65%) and Loughborough (72%), with footfall levels closer to that of pre-pandemic at the time of study.
  • Stockport and Welwyn Garden City are particularly affected by the crisis, with footfall levels only 45% of pre-pandemic at the time of study.
  • Those centres more geared around utilitarian and convenience shopping seemed to be more resilient to the pandemic (i.e. Stockport and Welwyn Garden City, which demonstrated less footfall recovery, are classified as being more premium shopping and leisure destinations).
  • In general, the smaller centres studied proved more resilient to Covid-19, potentially due to being less impacted by the loss of long-distance commuters and providing more convenience shopping.