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Thought Leadership

Revitalising communities by the reprioritisation of spaces

Min Read
Gurminder Sanghera - Director, Architecture

by Gurminder Sanghera

Director, Architecture


The UK high street was once synonymous with retail, retail, retail. Yet over the past decade, high street sales have been decreasing at an alarming rate, significantly impacted by the growth in online shopping, further accelerated by the pandemic.

We can all see, when walking down our local high streets, that vacancy rates are at a record high. Our town centres need to be rejuvenated to support the changing needs of the communities they serve.

Locally-led town centre regeneration is key to driving resilient communities in the future. The purpose of the British high street is no longer solely retail. Communities are based around shared experiences, public realm with multifunctional, green, event spaces will stand the test of time and maintain a dynamic and vibrant community. The Future High Streets Fund, the Community Ownership Fund, Towns Fund and Levelling Up Fund, are all aides in enabling local authorities to gain the resources they need to transform these spaces. Local authorities that put placemaking at the heart of the design and focus on the bespoke needs of their communities are vital in creating successful regeneration schemes.

As Covid-19 unfolded, many individuals reassessed their priorities and needs, which also affects any town centre regeneration plans. Forward-thinking local authorities are engaging with private sector property experts such as masterplanners, architects and property agents to take a long-term view – ensuring the delivery of a futureproofed and viable development, with the inventive reuse of space that is well-connected and maximises the potential of its site.

In our experience, a mixed use approach, high-quality design and generous public realm are integral when generating a sense of place. It’s no longer the case that town centres require a regimented separation of different uses. It’s now far more common that the most successful places combine retail, commercial, residential, leisure, health and community space. This diverse offering makes schemes more attractive to the local community. It also gives spaces the flexibility and dynamic to cater for changing future demands.

Funded by the Future High Street Fund and the Towns Fund, Project Anchor Enterprise and Innovation Hub in Scunthorpe is an exemplar mixed use regeneration project, that occupies an existing brownfield site within a prominent location adjacent to the high street and Civic Quarter. This new Innovation and Enterprise Hub will provide over 24,000 ft ^2^ of agile office workspaces in a highly sustainable development. Featuring bookable meeting and conference facilities, communal lounge facilities, rooftop terraces and shared landscaped gardens, it aims to promote wellbeing and a healthier more collaborative workplace culture. A cafe/bar area featuring an outdoor covered seating area creates an ideal setting for relaxed and informal business meetings and interactions to take place, throughout the day, animating the building and bringing activity back into the high street. An adjoining 46-bed Key Worker and student accommodation wing offers a balance of high quality yet affordable accommodation with access to private landscaped gardens, promoting health and wellbeing, an essential quality that needs to be addressed in all student accommodation developments.

The enhanced town centre public realm successfully integrates this development within Scunthorpe town centre, which will not only attract new residents and workers to the area but also improve the town centre experience for the existing community.

The ambition to create a stimulating new development that acts as a catalyst for further town centre regeneration with enhanced sustainability and biodiversity is essential for the future prosperity for the town centre. Based on biophilic design principles, the development seeks to serve local business community needs, increasing footfall and dwell time within the town centre and act as a vibrant and welcoming new addition to the high street with enhanced public realm. By combining these offerings into one centralised destination, the development ensures that the town centre remains fit for purpose and can continue to support its community into the future.

Meaningful public/private partnerships offer the opportunity to create futureproofed town centres that engage with their unique contextual surroundings, incorporating distinctly attractive public spaces that form the basis of dynamic, thriving and sustainable new communities. Forward-thinking local authorities are creating new community-focused places that Britain’s regional towns can be proud of.

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