“Recovery from the pandemic poses an opportunity to vastly improve town centres so they marry closer to people’s needs,” said Chris Maidment, Chair of Crawley Town Deal Board. Maidment believes that while the concept of regenerating town centres predates the pandemic, COVID validates a lot of the ideas behind it.
From a planning perspective, decision-makers need to address how people are going to use town centres in the future: how space can be used to its full potential and which problems it will aim to solve. This is where the night-time economy poses an opportunity.
The night-time economy is defined as economic activity which occurs between the hours of 6pm to 6am and usually (but not always) involves the sale of alcohol for consumption (eg, bars, pubs and restaurants).
How could this benefit High Street accountants?
One of the areas that could really benefit from the night-time economy (minus the alcohol consumption) is the professional services industry, partly because of the new markets that it would create. High Street accountants and lawyers, for example, could attract customers into their places of work by keeping more flexible hours, including making themselves available at later times of the day.
“If accountants and lawyers are open late, then that encourages people to come to a particular place. I think a town that closes down at sort of six, seven, is less attractive to people than a town that extends beyond that,” said Maidment.
Where the pandemic has turbo-charged the idea of more flexible working, Maidment believes businesses should mirror this effect, move with the times and become more flexible in their offering.
“I think people are looking at more flexible working these days. One of the things that the pandemic has unfortunately brought about is that a lot of people's working days have extended because there isn't that distinction between home and work. I think people are more used to the concept of potential late or early shifts, and perhaps if professional services firms look to codify this they can avoid employees working over their allotted hours?”
This potential shift in working patterns to a more night-time driven economy would give customers the same access to businesses regardless of what time of day they are at work, while firms would avoid missing out on customers who are unable to make it in during standard office hours. This coming together would be beneficial to both parties and potentially boost the economy.
The ‘lost idea of localism’
A night-time economy could also help bring back the lost idea of localism. During the pandemic, social distancing rules closed many stores, some permanently, while others shifted to a more online offering.
“It's this idea of localism which I think has been driven by COVID - people came to appreciate their local communities more,” said Maidment.
He believes that with the regeneration of town centres, sectors like retail have an opportunity to use the night-time economy to grow once lockdowns are lifted. Retailers would be able to attract more customers on their way home from work, or after a day of working remotely.
“If you make a vibrant night-time economy, then this tees up an opportunity for retail to link to that. This is why I don’t think retail will necessarily die,” he said. “One of the things a lot of town centres are looking at are more ‘pop-up’ type events during the day - more market stall-type cultural events which enable a much more flexible and real-time offering.
“The pandemic has obviously been disastrous for many people and many businesses, but the recovery has also thrown up a raft of opportunities. Now it's a question of how we can take them forward,” Maidment concluded.
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