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The Impact of Research on the Future of the High Street

19 July 2016 by Noelle Ghanem

Last Friday, July 15th, I attended the launch and first annual retail seminar of the “National Retail Research Association Knowledge Exchange Centre” (NRRKEC).

Based in Nottingham Business School (Nottingham Trent University), NRRKEC identify and collate information about academic retail related research carried out across UK HEIs for retailers.

The seminar focussed on the impact of research on the Future of High Street. After being warmly welcomed by Nelson Blackley, Senior Research Associate at the NRRKEC, Prof Kim Cassidy, Academic Director of the center introduced the seminar with the objectives of the NRRKEC and the agenda for the day.

James Lowman, Chief Executive at ACS, then made an interesting point about the restructure of our high streets by bringing Investors and Landlords to work together instead of working separately.

Katie Cross, Research Assistant at ACS, followed and talked about local partnerships. Chris Noice, also from ACS, shared with us some tips on communicating research effectively to our audience.

After this first part of the seminar, we were asked to sit in groups and brainstorm around specific questions.

It was very interesting to hear everyone’s point of view, where they’re from and how they contribute with their data and expertise to improve UK’s High Streets.

I had the pleasure to be on the team with great human-beings: Dr. Jonathan Reynolds from Oxford SAID business school, Prof Cathy Parker from Manchester Metropolitan University who gave a talk in the 2nd half of the seminar, Vanessa Dehullu whom also gave a talk later in the day, and Keith Dugmore from Data Users Group.

Some of the questions we had to tackle were:
• What research is out there that has been ‘missed’?
• What further research is needed to develop healthy high streets of the future?
• Partnerships issues to explore.

The conversation drifted a little bit from these questions in particular. There’s so much to talk about when you’re in retail and with great people around you!

After lunch and more networking, Bill Grimsey, Author of the Grimsey Review and Executive Director at NRRKEC, introduced Vanessa Dehullu from Roeselare City Council in Belgium.

The Roeselare City Council is a great case study on how to create impact in our towns and regions. Vanessa Dehullu, explained very passionately the project and says: “Our footfall was under National Average. It was alarming!”, she then adds later “We needed to stay a functional and trendy city” and gave some great advice “Never make a plan without partners”.

The solution Roeselare City Council came up with was to create a smarter shopping experience. This includes: free WiFi in the city centre, a city App that gives you an overview of the city, a loyalty card for the whole city, and many more.

Roeselare also made sure the city was accessible for all and created more overground parking spaces for consumers to use.

At the end of the case study, Bill Grimsey emphasised on the fact that in order to improve the High Street, you’ve got to do something.

The second part of the seminar ended with Pr. Cathy Parker, whom shared with us the High Street 2020 Research Project - we’re all witnesses of the changing nature of retail and it brings many benefits to consumers but what are the consequences for communities and retailers themselves?

A second group brainstorming session was scheduled to try and find a solution similar to Roeselare City Council’s concept to apply in UK’s towns and cities. One of the solutions suggested was to hire Vanessa Dehullu herself. What do you think of a similar project in the UK? Would it work for your town or city?

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