Graham Galpin MSc FIPM, Economic Development Consultant shares his insights on how Covid-19 will affect our High Streets and Town Centres, this is the first in a series of blogs by Graham.

I must begin by stating that this is my personal view, not that of any partner organisation that I deal with. Some may agree with me, others not.

I was reflecting upon recent High Street Task Force Pilots visits to town centres that have taken place in March. There was little doubt in my mind that they would provide the prescriptions that were appropriate to assist those towns’ future vitality and viability.

Unfortunately, events have overtaken us all and “Operation Covid-19” has kicked in. We can see the profound impact for ourselves if we can actually go outside.

Colleagues at Springboard are reporting the lowest footfall figures on record, which is precisely what the epidemiologists want to see. Corner shops can keep trading but with the 2m rule applied and of course, you can shop for food, if any remains.

The reduced footfall has a catastrophic impact on their business. Retailers await the benefits of the Government grant, Business rates holidays and underwritten bank loans. Whilst the grant is with local authorities it takes time to distribute.

The Business Interruption Loan Scheme which underwrites (theoretically) 80% of loans to businesses is having a difficult birth and we should hold banks to account for the difficult barriers put up to borrowers. I seem to remember that those same banks benefitted from us putting our hands in our pockets 12 years ago.

This brought me to my recent contemplations. I was troubled that we as place managers could be simply re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The magnitude of the problem is beyond resolution by the simple application of local initiatives; I am therefore pleased that the Government has intervened. Whether those interventions are enough, timely or appropriate is a matter of personal taste. It will be judged by history.

Make no mistake this is a historic time for our towns worldwide and we have to recognise that. Things are unlikely to be the same after the pandemic subsides. We all have a part to play in defining the future.

What has heartened me greatly has been the grassroots responses. I have just read of local food and drink outlets providing meals for the vulnerable, that ad hoc groups are sharing experiences and resources, I know of a coffee shop that is now a grocery store, as a stopgap.

We locally based specialists, whether as place managers or Local Authorities must step up to the plate. In that role, it is our responsibility to ensure damage limitation. We should accept that responsibility as an honour and not be daunted because this will, one day, be a memory, not a nice one unless you cornered the market in loo rolls. It will be behind us and what we do now will define how our towns and lives go on.

We can use this time of empty streets and shops to get repairs and cleaning done. Get some decals to put on empty shop windows to tempt new investors. Get that town centre strategic plan updated in the light of the present crisis, involve others with skill sets and community interests. Make sure that the technology is available to allow Skype, ZOOM or one of the other virtual platforms to make meetings happen. Facilitate the responses to need including those ad hoc groups who may need extra guidance and help.

I suggest that people refer to my colleagues at the Institute of Place Management on their excellent blog about the response to this crisis which is far more comprehensive than my words here.

Finally, take as much control as you can, stay home, stay safe and think of the safety of others as you do what has to be done.

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Insights on how Covid-19 will affect our High Streets and Town Centres.

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