In turbulent times it is tempting to be pessimistic about the future of Beeston town centre.
To gloom merchants who see only collapse, retail guru Mary Portas has penned a perfect antidote, pointing to positive options for situations like ours, (1)
In her December Guardian article Portas suggests that local high streets and town centres need to focus on improving the quality of life in local communities by embracing the visitor experience. Her hypothesis is that businesses that add value to the local community are more likely to create and sustain greater customer loyalty.
Retail expert Mark Pilkington in the same article predicts that shops will become windows for goods held online. The shop floor will shrink and it will be more about engaging customers in a way that they cannot experience from their screens: ‘Injecting more theatre and excitement into traditional high streets increases their appeal to customers across the board’. They expect town centres to become more residential too. Portas and Pilkington argue that an overall restructuring of the high street will benefit everyone. So where do we stand in Beeston?
Retail and residential mix
In the past we have become used to residential property morphing one way into various commercial and retail uses - into mainline town centre shops in the centre and often more specialised outlets on fringes such as Chilwell Road.
There is nothing fixed about this direction of travel or to our retail and residential mix and no reason why some of this retail and commercial property should not return to residential use. This is happening in Chilwell Road and will occur inevitably in Beeston town centre in time. Living above shops creates vital affordable accommodation, as these are often spaces that can be converted cost effectively. Some authorities have given grants for this to happen – Ilkeston Road Nottingham is an example.
More people on the spot will encourage surviving retail to adapt, so the commitment to build 130+ new flats in Beeston town centre is a real opportunity. There may be short term challenges now with Covid - the associated retail units may not be occupied as quickly as hoped - but the flats component will add to the resident population and help local retail and entertainment in the longer run as happier times return.
It falls to individual retailers to enhance the customer experience once they are through the door - to stay longer in safe, comfortable and enjoyable surroundings and to encourage loyalty, but there is a role for Broxtowe too. It could support local traders in many ways such as rates reductions, shop-local schemes, incentives to visit initiatives, travel-to schemes and free car parking. These are just examples, and the more effective when combined with a programme of activities and experiences that enhance visitor experience.
Beeston already ticks some of the Portas boxes – co-ordinated and concerted efforts have to be made to capitalise upon the potential and to harness the swathes of pride and goodwill that exist in our communities.
Making Beeston worth a visit
As for ‘more theatre and excitement’, we have made a useful start. Think Art Trails, Exhibitions, Oxjam, Carnival, Canalside, Barton’s, Blue Plaques – many of these achievements have attracted national and international attention and media coverage. Combine these with recent initiatives like Street Art, Town trail, Design awards, #AlightinBeeston, Skate Beeston and add the wide range of community interest, cultural groups and activities available here – Open Gardens, Barton’s and entertainments staged in public spaces together with the Farmers Market. Each are positive experiences. They reinforce our distinct identity and increase footfall and potential for business engagement, but we cannot be complacent.
But we have to routinely deliver in a competitive world, so that ‘Lets go to Beeston’ becomes a reliable first choice, rather than opting for Hucknall, Bulwell, West Bridgford or Gedling, or simply shopping online.
How can we put more buzz into Beeston to embrace the visitor experience and to improve our own quality of life? The Portas message is a warning light. Restructuring our town centre might be a matter of survival if Beeston is to stay special.
We have home grown suggestions from our own retail commentators Nelson Blackley and Peter Swann elsewhere in #Beeston2020Vision
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