"The future lies in transforming unloved shopping centres into hubs that build communities as much as they build commercial prosperity."
John Hesketh, director HomeTown Plus
Last week it was reported that Tesco was closing its store in Stretford Mall after 40 years – putting a number of jobs at risk.
The news sparked a fiery online debate - not only about the gap in local services that the exit may create, but also of the future of Stretford Mall as a whole.
Although some have argued that footfall has increased over the past year, many people reminisced about Stretford Mall being a part of their childhood, full to the brim with shoppers who visited the mall's mix of local market traders and retail giants such as Woolworths.
Now the Mall, says one online comment, is "going down the pan".
Whether you agree with this comment or not, it is a reality that there is a general decline in footfall in shopping centres across the country - as reported by Retail Week. Just visit a shopping centre in a suburb of one of Greater Manchester's boroughs and you are sure to find vacant shops amidst walkways and atriums that hint at neglect.
But our shopping centres don't have to meet this fate.
Greater Manchester shopping centres serving small towns and suburban districts need to think differently when it comes to securing their future against a back-drop of continued success for super-regional shopping centres such as The Trafford Centre; the continued rise of online retailing; urban industrial decline; austerity and the consequent squeeze on household incomes.
The future lies in transforming unloved shopping centres into hubs that build communities as much as they build commercial prosperity. In our view, the planners and investors that drive a town's economic regeneration need to sit around the table with council teams and charity leaders to make sure complementary social regeneration is at the top of the agenda.
Economically and morally, shopping centres have little choice but to throw open their doors and welcome with open arms all corners of our community who can call the shopping centre their home- from young entrepreneurs looking for their first unit to grow their business ideas, to community groups who can reach more widely and impact more deeply from a central location.
Positively impacting the mental, physical and financial well-being of communities helps build trust, confidence, good will and loyalty - as well as winning new custom and retaining old custom, reducing void costs, growing rental income, social impact and new PR opportunities.
We know this works. We're currently working with entrepreneurs, charities and the local authority to revive York Place in Newcastle-under-Lyme – and the centre is slowly coming back to life.
With partners from the fields of business development, independent research and evaluation, traditional asset management, architecture and property development, technology, community development, cross-sector partnership-building and service transformation, Hometown Plus are presently preparing to bring their model of shopping centre regeneration back north to Greater Manchester and are exploring opportunities to turn around fortunes in shopping centres such as Stretford Mall.
John is pictured second from the left with colleagues from HomeTown Plus, L-R Mike Riddell, managing director, Brian Leyland, director and Kate Ramsey, senior consultant.