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Ideas to improve Buckinghamshire's high streets shared at Pinewood conference

New ideas for ways to rejuvenate Buckinghamshire’s high streets are being considered after commercial
experts and retailers urged local authorities to ‘take the lead’.

Representatives from local authorities and groups gathered at Pinewood Studios on Tuesday, February 11 to hear 18 speakers,including retailers, commercial experts and stakeholders, discuss the issues affecting high streets and to share ideas on how to breathe new life into them.

Speakers at the High Street Bucks event, organised by Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils alongside a host of other councils and organisations, suggested offering personal experiences, temporary pop-ups and more green spaces as ways to combat the decline in high streets.

Re-purposing buildings and office spaces was also a possibility, alongside urging local authorities to create a plan, creating events, experiences and activities, incorporating technology to
enhance visitor experience and tackling parking problems and business rates.

Ben Terry, head of location planning at Dixons Carphone, the electrical and telecoms retailer, suggested offering temporary pop-ups such as workshops, masterclasses, brands or retailers ‘to make you feel that local to where you live is a brand that you trust’ and give ‘something back’ to the
community.

He added that ‘creating a lure’ through offering late- night shopping events and making high streets traffic free was another way to increase footfall.

He added: “It’s a possibility for you to customise your own towns to celebrate locality, the history and the importance. The cultural heart and the retail heart of any town can be customised and tailored by you for your customers.”

Steve Norris, national head of planning at the real estate agents Lambert Smith Hampton, said: “You need to think about how digitally connected are your town centres and high streets, because if they are not, they certainly need to be.”

Being creative and clever about ways to use spaces, introducing more education into town centres and making occupancy costs more of a ‘level playing field’ were also cited by Mr Norris.

After the event, attendees from local authorities and groups in Marlow and Burnham spoke of how they are considering offering more personalised experiences through festivals, art exhibitions, pop-up shops and unique activities.

Lesley James, president of Marlow Chamber of Commerce, said: “I thought the general gist of what was being said and what was proposed was really positive.

“As a chamber of commerce we are holding a business festival [Marlow Business (and fringe) Festival] at the end of March and I guess I was looking for the conference for some ideas that we might lift and, indeed, to see if we were on the right lines.

“The easiest thing for us to do is to put more experience. Our businesses themselves can offer more experiences.”

Lesley explained that the use of temporary pop-ups to re-engage people with the high street is something they are ‘experimenting with’, while adding that she likes the idea of shared spaces.

Burnham Parish councillor Carol Linton, who attended the event as a member of the public rather than a representative of the council, said: “A lot of the ideas put forward at the conference for a vibrant high street are already being done in Burnham to make best use of our lovely Burnham Park Hall.”

She added: “There were a few new ideas which we haven’t tried – art exhibitions, pop up shops and business start-ups come to mind.

“I especially liked the repair centre idea, where people can learn crafts and skills themselves. We already have cheap IT training at the library and I run occasional sessions on the NHS apps to get doctors appointments.

“We have just lost a games shop where people met to play boardgames. In Watford, there is a place where tables can be hired for games. That is an idea which might be worth generalising as a meeting point for young adults.

“Traditional shops (fishmonger, green grocer, specialist food shops) are not going to be able to compete against the large supermarkets on the village outskirts.

“High street shops would need a personalised service and on demand orders to get customers in.”


Technology, events and the High Street

Speakers urged attendees to bring more technology and events into Buckinghamshire’s high streets to increase footfall.

Discussing how to take advantage of online platforms, Helen Wylde, founder and director of consultancy Sooth Ltd, said: “If you’re a town and you’ve got enough sense to work together you can create a platform from which you can deliver services and experiences which are new and exciting, pertinent to where you live.

“Drive specific personal services into people’s mobile phones and handbags so you can start to share what’s available in town, in terms of a social agenda, experiences, shopping opportunities.”

She added that designing mobile applications tailored around the town centres, which appeal not just to young people but to everyone, is another way to increase footfall. She also encouraged people to move away from the ‘traditional infrastructure’ and start embracing ‘all elements of digital’.

Lallie Davis, partnerships and strategy manager at Buckinghamshire Cultural partnership, added that events and festival are a ‘great way of bringing in new audiences’ and customers.

Also, having cultural institutions such as galleries and museums can also ‘increase footfall’, she said.

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