Developing Resilient Town Centres

Author DCLG, CLES, ATCM

This paper, aimed at people working to support their high street, town or city centre, provides an overview of what it means to be ‘resilient’, and draws on lessons from nine locations to help create strong policies, form sustainable partnerships and develop appropriate projects in local centres throughout the UK and Ireland.

Date added 19 November 2021
Last updated 19 November 2021

As part of the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) support for Town Teams, the Association of Town & City Management (ATCM) and Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) undertook research in nine locations across England, between February and May 2014.

This briefing paper, aimed at town centre stakeholders, local authorities and national policymakers, provides a review of the key lessons learned throughout this process, highlighting the stronger and weaker aspects of resilience, before considering what policymakers should be prioritising to create stronger and more resilient towns.

An initial ‘resilience review’ of the towns identified seven broad common challenges across each location. This included the need for locations to develop a shared vision for their area, as it allows for local stakeholders to work together in a common direction, that local centres should seek to redefine and broaden their functions, to achieve a more balanced offer, and that more needs to be done to understand the local catchment, as there is often a disconnect between projects being delivered and the local community’s needs and desires.

The resilience reviews also assessed the range of opportunities local centres can focus on to make stronger, more resilient towns. This included stimulating a strong social economy (especially volunteering and broad community engagement), as it provides the basis for driving partnerships between public, private and third sector organisations, as well as encouraging the growth of independent businesses, as areas with a higher proportion of independent retailers were able to offer a more unique offer and therefore stand out as a regional centre whilst also providing stronger links to the local community.

The report details a number of good practice examples which illustrates the resilient properties across some of the towns that were assessed. This includes highlighting the ‘Created in Tamworth’ initiative, which developed a council-owned building into an incubator unit for local people to test out new ideas in a low cost, low risk way, and the development of a community shop in Market Weighton, which sells items at low cost, and in turn donates all profits within the local community. This type of sustainable, co-operative business responds directly to local needs and demonstrates resilience by helping residents take control over their future by securing the provision of essential products and services.

The report then goes on to detail the main issues identified through this research process, before providing a summary of what needs to be done to tackle the issue. The main issues fall under the following headings:

  • Developing more strategic leadership
  • Forging strong partnerships that have equal ownership
  • Highlighting the need for the private sector to step up
  • Building greater social-commercial relationships
  • Embedding the community sector within town centres
  • Maximising the use of public assets
  • Capitalising on heritage and other assets

The report’s main conclusion is that a new ‘network of networks’ approach to town management, with a broad range of constituents, is required to address the challenges and opportunities in towns. Delivering a strong partnership between the commercial, public and social sectors, and local communities must be seen as a way of harnessing the energy of local traders, leaders and residents to enliven our town centres.

The key to building resilient towns is building a vibrant, creative community that in turn breathes new creative and economic life back into our town centres. There are many good examples of initiatives which have proven to be innovative models in strengthening many places – the challenge is to build on such successes as well as tackling areas of weakness.