Manchester Metropolitan University

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How to save the British high street

Retail project’s plans to help 10 UK towns

A PIONEERING project to revitalise the high street in UK towns has identified the top priorities for immediate action.

MMU’s business academics are leading the project High Street UK 2020 in a bid to reverse the decline of retail districts, working with 10 towns across the country.

Researchers joined with councillors, retail managers, traders and other stakeholders to create strategies for each area.

The team, led by Professor Cathy Parker, also used a wealth of retail research and previous studies to craft the step-by-step plans.

Actions to be taken differed between the towns but included better car parking, improving pedestrian access, attracting restaurants, changing opening hours, better marketing of events and using redundant space.

Bright future?

It was found that only around a third of the factors that impact upon high street performance can be managed locally. 

Prof Parker, Chair of Retail and Marketing Enterprise at MMU, said: “High streets will continue to be affected by forces outside of their control, like the state of the economy, retail innovation and changes in consumer behaviour.

“What’s important is that locations understand what they can influence – and prioritise the actions that will have the most positive impact.”

The 10 UK towns are: Alsager, Altrincham, Ballymena, Barnsley, Bristol, Congleton, Holmfirth, Market Rasen, Morley and Wrexham.

Knowledge was exchanged with the partner towns through a series of workshops, held during June and July, culminating in a national conference at MMU’s £75million Business School.


The towns now have unrivalled access to an online support centre, resources normally unobtainable by local town centre partnerships.

The team was awarded a £112,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council with £140,000 investment coming from partners, including footfall data specialists Springboard.

The HSUK2020 project  reviewed more than 200 studies, identifying 160 different influences on high street vitality and viability. No one study has examined all these at once. 

The project has featured extensively in the press. You can view some of the coverage at The Yorkshire Post or at The Huddersfield Examiner.

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