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It's time to reimagine our High Streets

12.06.19

At U+I, we are great believers in partnership, and so we are delighted to be working with BPF Futures and the One Public Estate programme, led by the Office of Government Property and Local Government Association, to launch a new Challenge.

A Challenge that aims to put real estate’s future leaders and the Public Sector’s next generation of professionals at the heart of the issues facing our towns and cities. Visit the Challenge website here: https://futures-challenge.com/ 

We launched this Challenge last week at our offices and were delighted to host Oliver Dowden MP and panellists from a range of backgrounds for an opinionated and passionate debate on the health of our high streets and the challenges and opportunities our urban centres face.

Much of the renaissance we have seen in towns and cities across the UK in the last decade has been delivered by enlightened and genuine partnerships; the coming together of developer, the public sector and the local community with a shared vision and purpose. The power of this kind of collaboration was echoed by Janet Young, Government Chief Property Officer at the Cabinet Office, who reminded our audience of how the choices we make about public estate can be a catalyst for wider public benefit.

Matthew Weiner kicked off the day by focusing on the importance of partnerships.

"The best partnerships are those that bring together a diversity of perspectives. It is through this process that new ideas are born, and through working with others who bring something different to the table that we can break out of the group mentality and stale processes to approach challenges with fresh thinking and come up with new ways of doing things”.

Matthew Weiner, Chief Executive at U+I

At U+I, we are committed to delivering vibrant, mixed-use places that take their inspiration from their local areas and meet the needs of each community, creating affordable, desirable places people can truly enjoy – not just a place to sleep or commute from, but a place to live and thrive. And to do that, we need to be continually challenging ourselves to do things differently – and better.

So there was no better way to launch the Challenge than with a vibrant discussion between panellists Wayne Hemmingway of Hemmingway Design, Alex Schlagman, founder of SaveTheHighStreet.org, Joyeeta Das, CEO and Founder of data platform GYANA, and Will Brett, Director of Research and Campaigns at Global Future, who shared their thoughts on the challenges facing today’s high streets and what the way forward might be with Property Week’s Deputy Editor, Guy Montague-Jones.

Despite their differing backgrounds and perspectives, our panel were united in their view that the challenges facing our urban centres are also a moment of great opportunity and potential for those who are – in the words of Alex Schlagman – “adaptive, flexible and willing to be bold.” Wayne Hemmingway agreed that these are “the most exciting times for town centres we’ve experienced in a long time,” discussing the opportunity to reimagine our urban centres as places of exchange, where views, ideas and experiences can be shared.

In order to do that, we need flexible spaces which can grow and change with community needs. Joyeeta Das highlighted the need to build flexibility into the system, drawing lessons from the pop-up spaces which we have seen thriving in many of our cities in recent years to make repurposing and adapting a normal part of the way we use and think about space.

When it came to advice for Challenge participants, the importance of listening to local needs came through load and clear. Will Brett emphasised the need to actively seek out local communities and involve them in the design process, while Joyeeta and Alex pointed to the power of data to supplement community consultation and provide insight into the underlying needs for a space that communities themselves may not even be conscious of.

At U+I, we couldn’t agree more that flexibility, fresh thinking and deep and genuine consultation with the community are part of the solution to revitalise our urban centres. Through thoughtful, mixed-use regeneration, which brings together retail, offices, community and leisure spaces, we can create town centres where people can not only shop, but work, reside, meet and spend time, too. With a little imagination, and the audacity to put plans into action, we can create places that will serve their communities for years to come. They will remain relevant and the industry will adapt to an understanding that location and experience is more relevant than lease length and covenant.

The Challenge is a chance to bring fresh thinking to a real-world problem, using collaborative working between public and private sector partners to create a shared vision for the identity and character of a town centre or high street. The opportunity was also welcomed by Oliver Dowden MP, whose keynote speech praised the initiative’s aims of unlocking collaboration between public and private sectors and releasing the potential of future leaders in our industry.

We too are excited to see the new ideas – and new partnerships – that will emerge from the Challenge and hope they will inspire us all with fresh thinking.

If you want to find out more about the Challenge or apply to take part, you can do so here https://futures-challenge.com/

[Event photography: Tribal London]
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