Could Place Management Be Just The Medicine Sick Retail Needs?
Now, I’ve got a confession to make, I never really used to understand what place management was all about. I thought it had more to do with table settings than retail and the high street. I could identify more with Happy Gilmour when he went to his ‘happy place’ than I could with formal place management.
According to the Institute of Place Management it is the practice of “developing, managing and making places better”. Well, if that’s the case, count me in!
Because place management could just be the medicine that the patient needs right now. For years, it felt like something of an adjunct to the industry, however, a bit like RFID and QR codes, it now feels like place management’s time has well and truly come.
I recently visited London’s Soho district on the day that hospitality was allowed to reopen and the thing that struck me was that it appeared that the continental cafe culture had suddenly come to London. People sat at tables in the road eating and drinking, restaurants and bars allowed to utilise the space as never before. And people were loving it.
And now this is being repeated up and down the country. But of course, it’s not just about taking over the pavement and the road for dining, in reality, for the very first time in memory, local councils have been given permission to experiment; free of the usual constraints, they can now create inspiring spaces which can be enjoyed by us all.
Because, if there’s one thing this pandemic has done, it is to reset our tolerance and expectation levels and most of us do not want to return to how it used to be.
It’s as if we have collectively been liberated and our new found freedom of thinking is already beginning to have an impact on our town centres.
But let’s not get carried away, the patient is still very sick and recovery will take time and will involve a prolonged spell of recuperation. But the signs are there of lasting change.
For example, on the day when prime minister Boris Johnson announced that as of August 1 the Government will change its advice on working from home, to give employers discretion over whether to ask staff to go back to work, how many are likely to follow that? Because both employers and employees can now see a better way of working.
We’ve all been working from home quite happily and it seems that the concept of commuting is being consigned to history — at least on a full time basis. This will result in a cleaner, greener environment, a transference of some of the City spend to our local high streets and a better quality of life.
All these things of course will have a positive effect on retail and our high streets. Right now, with online eCommerce thriving, that may seem hard to imagine however, we are human beings and, face masks and elbow bumps aside, we are social beings, we just can’t help ourselves.
So whilst there remains a fear of the virus, ultimately we will have to learn to live with it, as we do many other risks to our health and welfare. And as our communities begin to adjust, place management should have a central role to play in illuminating the path back to some kind of normality.