‘Boring’ retail is dead, but innovative experiences are reviving West London’s Town Centres

West London’s town centres are leading the way in grasping opportunities presented by the ‘new millennials’ spending power through restoring themselves as innovative community centres.
That was the message of the Town Centres in a Changing World debate at the Capital West London Summit where a panel of experts discussed ways of creating vibrant, prosperous and sustainable town centres.
Chair Ben Rogers from Centre for London opened the debate by reminding delegates of West London’s reputation as a ‘City of Villages’ with vibrant town centres embedded in their DNA as vital community centres. He emphasised the importance of ensuring town centres’ future economic success given their importance in the New London Plan.
Marie Hickey, director at Savills, presented data showing that retail trends were changing, with the new focus on how to maximise the opportunities presented by millennials’ spending habits.
“We’ve all seen the headlines about the changes in retail, the shift to online, and the impact on legacy stores, but what does this mean for our town centres going forward?” she asked.
“The reality is that the way we are spending money has changed; we now spend more on experiences, such as holidays, eating out, cultural experiences and even gym membership, and less on buying stuff.
“This is particularly true of the new millennials plus the post-millennials and they are the generation which is driving the agenda going forward.
“The good news is that the change is generating opportunities as well as challenges. Many online stores are transferring to physical stores because they value in-town locations – statistics show that 29% of online sales are generated from stores where the customer has originally seen or experienced the product.”
She told the Summit that the future of town centres was in diversification and intensification away from the ‘boring’ retail of the past, towards increased an increased leisure and cultural offer, supported by including residential, student housing and commercial offices in a town centre mix.
Bringing people into town centres by creating places that people love and feel was also central to Martin Evans, Creative Director of U + I, who said: “You have to go back to the beginning to understand what town centres were and why they are where they are now.
“Town centres were the well where people gathered to get their water. Then people started shipping and trading they would also take out stalls.  Essentially town centres are places of gathering, enterprise, trade, people and society. Town centres are complex. There is always a need to gather people to have a common purpose.”
Patricia Bench, Director of Hammersmith BID which sponsored the debate, explained that many West London town centres were already ahead of curve, embracing change by re-inventing themselves as vibrant community centres with innovative leisure and cultural offers.
“Retail has not gone away, but it has changed. As curators of town centres, which BIDs are, we have to create the right environment for businesses by working with them to develop and deliver those innovative leisure and cultural experiences.”
She explained that many businesses wanted to be part of the community and had expanded their view of what they wanted their BIDs to deliver – they wanted town centres which were not just safe and clean, but which provided a rich leisure and cultural offer. In addition, there was additional focus on sustainability, making the BIDs’ roles in delivering green town centres even more important.
She cited Hammersmith as a leading example of how West London centres were leading the way, using a mix of exciting leisure and cultural activities such as its popular Summer Festival to attract more people as well as introducing innovative solutions to changing retail habits such as the BID’s recently-launched Parcels Not Pollution initiative.
Parcels Not Pollution aims to tap into local office workers’ online spending habits by providing the convenience of zero-emission door-to-door delivery of items bought at local stores by bicycle couriers.
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