Halifax – with Elephants

When I was 10 months old my father ‘forsake the amateur code’ (copyright Welsh Rugby Union) and ‘went north’, joining the Halifax professional rugby league team. This was a life changing decision in many ways for his family; not least because four years later when we returned to Wales, I apparently spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent. Thankfully that soon disappeared!

Some 58 years later, I have never been back to Halifax, but felt that at some time I should see where I spent the first four years of my life. This decision was given recent imperative by a burning desire to see the Piece Hall, having been impressed by it and its renovation on a couple of pieces on TV. So a few weeks ago, down south we headed; a staycation with a busman’s holiday of looking at some shops thrown in.

On the way we stopped off at Fountains Abbey and mused a litlle on Henry VIII.  But even in its current state the Abbey demonstrated the grounding of wealth and status that is the hallmark of the powerful. It reveals the vast wealth that can be extracted from the country’s resources; and which to this day we squander.

A similar combination of feelings grabbed me in the Piece Hall. Built 240 years ago as a commerce and trading site for the natural wealth of Yorkshire, it is deeply impressive and symbolic. It is fantastic that it is brought back to use and is a fabulous witness to what can be done. It is also a sensational public event space, standing with the great European urban spaces, though I would not swear about an equivalency in weather.

Halifax today has 20% less people that in its Victorian heyday and the buildings speak to this. The Borough Market, the Town Hall, the Victorian Theatre, the Minster are all central testimony to the wealth of the time; fine buildings all. As are many others, though often in decay or shuttered. Either we don’t create wealth like we used to; or it is solely used for personal greed (shout out to Philip Green here).

Another silent witness to changing times and impermanence is the wonderful Burton building from 1932 complete with a pair of foundation stones and a lovely collection of elephants. It is now a McDonalds; a company not exactly reknown for building anything of value (and for me that includes the Big Mac).


Following in the footsteps of @soult we also spotted a Woolworth ghost sign, so covered another cultural base.

This reuse of things/places was a recurring theme as we also visited Dean Clough Mills in Halifax and then just down the road the World heritage Site of Saltaire in Bradford. Both are astonishing in their scale and their energy today. Dean Clough is a thriving workspace and art collection/space. We managed to see the last day of Conrad Shawcross’ Chord in the ‘new’ Jute Shed space. At Saltaire the Salts Mill has been used as a tremendous art space and Hockney’s ‘The Arrival of Spring’ is shown off to great efffect. Throw in the Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield and we were all cultured out.


I am not sure why it has taken me 58 years to get back to Halifax. It is a fascinating part of the world. It brought home to me the changing fortunes of our heritage, places and people. Why are we so reluctant to help those who want to keep this heritage and our buildings and towns alive? We ought to be incentivising re-use, and penalising the bland, identikit rubbish that mars and scars so many of the edges of our towns. The foundations were built for us; why are we so keen to kick them down?

Posted in Buildings, Burtons, Corporate History, Design, Ghost Signs, Halifax, Heritage, Historic Shops, Markets, Places, Public Realm, Regeneration, Retail History, Rugby League, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clicks and Mortar by Amazon


Last Friday afternoon I attended a launch of the new Amazon inspired and supported Clicks and Mortar store in the Waverley Mall, Edinburgh.  This is the third such store and the first in Scotland; ten are planned in total over a year.  Someone was kind enough to suggest I spoke and this post has a little of what I said.

I had the previous week visited the second such store in Cardiff (the first was in Manchester) – and chatted to people involved there, so I had some idea of what to expect in Edinburgh.  By contrast though, the Edinburgh store is much larger, more open and has more of retail flow and sense to it.  It is in the newly energised Waverley Mall (and look out for more changes to come) and last Friday seemed to be attracting quite a lot of customer interest (and not just to shelter from this Scottish summer).


The basic idea is a short-term pop-up store showcasing sellers (preferably local) from the Amazon Marketplace.  The mix of sellers is curated, and then supported by various partners including Amazon (Enterprise Nation, Direct Line for Business, Square and Amazon).  Every few weeks the mix of sellers is changed.  These sellers have no or very limited experience of physical sales but do have an active online presence – hence the store title.  The ‘staffing’ also provides a way of encouraging online (and new) customers to meet the sellers/makers.  It is a pop-up store so the time span is limited to a few weeks/months in most cases.


Now I have not been shy about criticising Amazon in the past (and yes I do end up using it on occasions, so I know the double standards) and I am a very firm and vociferous believer that our taxation system has to catch up with the shift from a physical to a digital system.  Nonetheless, this is an interesting initiative by Amazon and partners which should be applauded. We need more experimentation.

To be honest though, the basic idea is not that new.  We already have artists centres and cooperatives, Ebay and Etsy stores and a marketplace for a variety of pop-up and meanwhile uses.  But the backing of Amazon and partners and the transfer of knowledge of selling in physical space to let online sellers experiment is a good thing (there are other less positive views of this).  Less good is the short term and sporadic nature of the trials, but then maybe there will be further phases with a more fixed look (if that is appropriate, and it might well not be).

The progress of these sellers and stores during the experiment is being monitored (not by me, I add).  It will be interesting to learn how they go on and what benefits sellers see.

From a towns perspective, getting new, novel and local things into a place is a good thing.  We need to recognise a desire for difference and connectivity/authenticity – and this provides a way in to understanding some of these relationships.  Customers often seek out and want this difference and authenticity and an ability to browse and discuss with those that are involved in the product.

So, whatever you think about the motives, look out for these short life stores and if you can, get along and check out the sellers.  They might have something different for you and need/welcome your support.  This is not an expensive trial, but a learning opportunity and each store will be different, so there is no guarantee what you will find. This in my view is a good thing.

The learning is also not only for the independent sellers.  The Cardiff team told me they changed the window and entrance after realising customers were unsure what the store was about.  We can all learn something.



Posted in Amazon, Amazon Clicks and Mortar, Brands, Edinburgh, Entrepreneurship, Independents, Internet shopping, Malls, Online Retailing, Pop Up Shops, Pop-Up Shops, Reinvention, Retail brands, Retail Change, Retailers, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Retailing, Shopping Centres, Small Shops, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Vacancies, Waverley Mall | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Preston Model”: Community Wealth Building

During the National Review of Town Centres, I was introduced to Neil McInroy and his work as the Chief Executive of CLES.  We subsequently begin to work together on the specific project of Understanding Scottish Places and he has been a valuable partner and sounding board/agitator in the work of Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

All the while I was vaguely aware of CLES’ work elsewhere and in particular began to hear about specific ideas being operationalised in Preston.  This more recently has been codified in the media as ‘The Preston Model’ and is an approach to local community wealth building.

So, what is the Preston Model and what is community wealth building?  Ask Preston City Council or CLES is one answer, but another is to read the short report on ‘How we built community wealth in Preston: Achievements and Lessons’ which they have recently produced and can be freely downloaded here.

This report tells the story, the impacts and the lessons learned and the authors hope it will act as an inspiration for other places.  It is not a finished process and more always needs to be done, but the report (and the associated publications and videos on the CLES website) gives some thoughtful ideas and starting points.

Community-wealth building according to the report comprises a blend of five strategies:

  • Plural ownership of the economy – more diversity and local ownership of economic power
  • Making financial power work for local places  – harnessing the wealth/spend that already exists locally
  • Fair employment and just labour markets – anchor institutions leading on stimulating the local economy and social cohesion of communities
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services – developing dense local supply chains
  • Socially productive use of land and property – using assets and anchor institutions to grow community use and citizen ownership.

You can assess for yourself whether this is possible in your place and if it would work as it has begun to in Preston.  It is in a way a blend of self-awareness and self-help but for the good of a place not an individual (though they benefit as well).  It is about understanding what a place can be rather than pining for what it once might have been, as so many local leaders and others are prone to do.

The report provides eight key lessons from Preston, noting that this approach to community wealth building:

  • Works
  • Is the work of many hands
  • Must be unique to place
  • Is about public service
  • Means a diversity of suppliers
  • Tells a story that people want to hear
  • Is not a ‘model’ but an inspiration
  • Is both a policy approach and a way of working.

These are strong lessons to learn, live by and implement in any place. It is not a model to be lifted but some thinking about how we might change a place. If interested, please read more and be inspired to see whether some of the ideas can be used in your town.



Posted in CLES, Community, Governance, Innovation, Local Authorities, Local Multiplier, Localisation, Networks, Places, Reinvention, Relationships, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Supply Chains, Sustainability, Town Centre Review, Towns, Uncategorized, Understanding Scottish Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christmas may be Cancelled

If there is no upside to Brexit then a No Deal Brexit plumbs the depth of stupidity. And yet, two men who claim to be intelligent are currently racing to utter the most damaging nonsense and not bothering to hide the fact that they have no clue about what is going to happen. From “F**k Business” Boris to Hunt’s “destroying businesses and livelihoods is a price worth paying and I will look them in the eye and tell them that as they sign on the dole” (I paraphrase a little), we have people who do not understand the real world. A No Deal Brexit will destroy our supply chains. Brexit itself will mangle them badly (see my post from over three years ago on this). People will lose jobs, livelihoods and in the worst-case scenario, lives, if this no-deal rubbish goes ahead.

So why does Christmas matter? When Brexit was in March, retailers began to stockpile products as and when they could. You can do this for non-perishable products. But it comes at a price; this price is additional costs to businesses (and eventually consumers) from tying up capital in stock, a revised/ damaged cash flow, additional handling etc. and the cost of renting warehouse space. The March Brexit date approached, it became apparent such space was running out and thus, such a strategy became even more costly or impossible. The short term was sort of covered and muddled through with the real pain delayed.

And then we didn’t leave (hurrah)!

But we might leave at Halloween (boo, hiss)!

Now October is not March in so many ways, but in one special way for retailers. It is seven months closer to Christmas and for some retailers it almost is their Christmas. If they have not got their stock in place by October then they may never get it fully in place. And to do that they need warehouse space – loads and loads of it. And they need supply chains to work seamlessly.

The problem in this is sort of obvious, but last week retail leaders felt the need to begin to queue up to point to the bleeding obvious. If all our warehouse space is full with Brexit preparation stock then there is no space for the Christmas stock (and they are different). If it is not full, then it will be more expensive or difficult. If you wanted to pick the worst time for Brexit (yes I know any time is just the worst) then it is the end of October. Warehouse space will not be available and that assumes you can get the products into the country in the first place.

Christmas is of course the time of year that retailers see the main bulk of their sales and their profits. Get it wrong and the business really suffers or in many cases could have to close down. A bad Christmas can be business ending. Throw in a disastrous Christmas on a Brexit addled economy and you get a major catastrophe at individual, business and sector level. We’ll help, the politicians parrot; but ask them “how”? and they clam up. Clueless.

Our political clowns don’t care. “It’s soooo worth it,” they repeat on a loop. It’s not; it’s really not. Disrupt our supply chains to the extent proposed (without a care as well) and people will suffer big time. And I hope people wreak revenge when they can. These politicians deserve their comeuppance. And then when they are put out of their jobs, look them in the eye and say it is worth it. By then it will be.

Borders, tariffs, WTO etc. have had their moment in the Brexit shambles. But it is the scarcity of our supply that we should be worried about. Hence the renewed panic this month about medicines. And still we are nowhere near concerned enough.

I don’t think the answer is, as one of my colleagues proposed, to cancel Christmas on the basis it is too German or suspiciously continental. But the way it’s going it is far more sensible than the suggestions coming out of our politicians mouths.


Posted in Brexit, Christmas, Disasters, distribution, European Union, Finance, Frictionless, Government, Logistics, Politicians, Producers, Resilience, Stock, Suppliers, Supply Chains, Uncategorized, Warehouses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food and Retailing Cultures: Zaragoza

On a few occasions before, I have come back from somewhere and commented on the quality of food and/or retail culture that I have observed. I have then contrasted it with our own paucity of offer. I know this can be an unfair contrast and there are good things being done here, but it is a contrast nonetheless. Whether it is Lisbon (Part One and Part Two), Helsinki, (twice), Rome or in this case Zaragoza, it puts our cities in the shade.

The latest EAERCD (don’t ask) conference was held in Zaragoza last week. We flew to Madrid and then caught a non-stop train to Zaragoza; it clocked over 300km/h on the way and was light years ahead of anything in the UK. Contrast One.

On the last day there we did have a couple of hours to wander the centre and old town and two further contrasts caught my eye. The first was the food. Italy gets most of the plaudits but the food culture in Spain gives it a run for its money. This was brought home in Zaragoza Central Market.

The Market itself appears to be based normally in a large building in the form of a standard (if impressive) market. This is undergoing renovation. I fear that in the UK in a similar situation some odd compromise would be in place and the stall holders would be left to try to fend for themselves. Here, a pop up portakabin market hall had been developed and stall holders traded from there.

As the photos show, the market is thriving with fabulous displays of fish, meat and fruit and veg. The range and quality was far in excess of what we see normally and in our supermarkets. I also liked the bags to take your whole Iberico ham home in – that tells you a lot about the food culture. As did the offal and tripe stall; people know about food. Contrast Two.


Wandering around the centre in the cool of the morning (it would be too hot later) it was also clear that Zaragoza had pride in some of its historical stores. A collection of historical shops and cafes, exhibiting a nice variety of signs and lettering as well as store styles, had been protected from the march of time. These were not as numerous or as splendid as in Lisbon, but in total they really said something about pride in place. A further contrast.


The collection of photos here illustrates some of the stores, signs and lettering. They speak of a bygone era but have a role in the present. The fact many of the photos show closed stores is purely a function of the time of day. But who can’t be impressed by the signs and the style exhibited? Our equivalents have in most places been lost; and in that we have lost so much more than a sign or a building. Our sense of place and identity has also been much diminished.


Posted in Architecture, Consumer Lifestyle, Food, Food Retailing, Heritage, Lisbon, Local Retailers, Markets, Places, Retail History, Retail Planning, Shopfronts, Signage, Spaces, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retail Focused Funded PhD Available – Suburban Mobility: Shopping and Older People

A fully funded three year PhD is available for Autumn 2019 start. This research project explores features of the retail environment that enable older people to use local neighbourhood and high street shops as well as participate and keep mobile in their ‘everyday lives’.

Background information

3-year PhD studentship based in the faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, commencing 1st October 2019. The studentship includes tuition fees and a stipend (based on 18/19 rates this will be c.£15,009 per year) for three years. The studentship will lead to a PhD from the University of Stirling.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Judith Phillips who has a track record in research on ageing and environment and Prof. Leigh Sparks, with expertise and experience of research on retail environments.

In addition to monthly supervisory meetings, the doctoral student will receive mentoring and support from the Dementia and Ageing Research group (particularly architects in design) and by colleagues in the School of Management, Retail Studies group. Both research groups run regular seminars and training events and will provide opportunities for the student to meet and benefit from the experience of other students and staff with relevant expertise. The student will also be able to take advantage of the training events and support through the Institute of Advanced Studies. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop skills and experience in interdisciplinary research as part of a team of researchers in ageing.

Project Overview

The research project explores features of the retail environment that enable older people to use local neighbourhood and high street shops as well as participate and keep mobile in their ‘everyday lives’. The main aims are to determine the barriers and enablers of older people’s access and mobility to and within retail environments (particularly local high streets), and to propose, visualise and evaluate negotiated design modifications for overcoming the barriers and promoting enablers. It adopts a collaborative approach to develop innovative solutions and uses a mixed methods approach in new research to investigate mobility patterns of older people in relation to their local retail environment; the barriers and enablers they experience in their journey to, and inside, shops; and the improvements that could be made. It provides a platform to develop tools to communicate results of this research to retailers.

Context and background

The retail sector has continued to undergo profound change, primarily through out-of-town retailing, online shopping, and an unbalanced financial playing field producing a crisis in town centres and high street retailing. Various reports have called for strategies to revitalise town centres. These can only be sustainable through individual towns addressing their unique opportunities and challenges (social, economic, physical, and historical circumstances).This requires detailed exploration of the needs of the people who use a place, how and why they travel to local shops, and what barriers they face both now and in the future. There is a gap in our knowledge of how the retail sector balances the needs of their customers and their desire to sell goods when designing retail environments and, in particular, how to design retail environments that are more attractive to older people. Most shop design initiatives concern large retailers and focus on accessibility issues. There is some stress on creating appropriate ‘atmospheres’ that are efficient and user-friendly, but the social aspects are often only considered in large shopping malls or supermarkets. We know little of the extent to which small businesses engineer good in-store design for an ageing population. Local shops also play a crucial community role as ‘social hubs’ that ‘support’ older people’s emotional and social needs.

The shift to out-of-town retail parks, reliance on the car and the development of online shopping threaten the sustainability of suburban and high street shops. The decline of local and high street stores potentially increases older people’s social exclusion given 48% of people over 70 do not have full driving licences (or may have lost confidence to drive) and 72% of people over 75 do not use the internet. The study will contribute towards filling a knowledge gap by focusing on older people’s whole shopping experiences and journeys and their use of different retail options e.g. high street, neighbourhood shops, retail outlets and internet shopping. Through an investigation of the whole shopping experience we will explore the balance between different forms of shopping (click and collect; face to face); what balance do older people prefer and how does the choice of option impact on older people who lose confidence or mobility.

It is important for older people to retain independence and wellbeing if they are to remain active and engaged in society. Outdoor activity is beneficial to physical and mental health as well as social engagement: encouraging mobility in the local neighbourhood is crucial for postponing the shrinkage of older peoples’ radius of movement in later life. Mobility is encouraged by having accessible shops in close proximity and in safe, supportive environments. Consumer focus on convenience has risen in recent years, but it is unclear if these new, convenient opportunities consider older, local users. Few studies concentrate specifically on the local suburban neighbourhood in which many older people ‘age in place’.

Shopping benefits health, social interaction and wellbeing, yet many obstacles may deter people from going out, such as provision of public toilets, busy streets with high level signs and complex road layouts if driving, uncertainty over reliability of public transport, accessibility of shops at street level, difficulties in their internal configuration and facilities (lifts, doors and walkways) and perceptions of the environment in relation to safety, quality and ambience. The study explores this neglected area by focusing holistically on whole journeys, taking account of elements such as lighting, parking, pavements, social interaction, interior and exterior design. This distinctive approach will focus on typical, everyday whole journey shopping trips undertaken by older people viewed in the context of their whole shopping experience. Information about why older people take routes or forms of transportation, what motivates them, and how they think the external built environment and internal design of shops could be improved will contribute to developing strategies for interventions and modifications that support older people.

The applied research will contribute to debates on lifetime neighbourhoods, inclusive design, usability and accessibility, and age-friendly communities to ensure that all stages of a person’s journey and the interior retail environment are conceptualised as an integrated whole system. The project will contribute to the debate on what kinds of retail ‘places’ (real and virtual) best support the wellbeing of ageing populations

Older people are developing different images of age with varied social relationships, lifestyles, and self-perceptions. A change is required in the way we view older people as active contributors to the economy (consumers, residents, entrepreneurs and workers) and how we regard the utility of town centres and high streets. Older people can help rejuvenate local places through their incomes and wealth as consumers but also as residents, workers and entrepreneurs, playing out different lifestyles and behaviours. The PhD is an opportunity to contribute to this reshaping of image of both older people as active citizens and to the discussion around the rejuvenation and sustainability of the high street at a critical time in its development.

Eligibility and availability

The successful candidate will have:

  • A degree level qualification (preferably 2.1) in a relevant subject
  • An MRes or relevant postgraduate qualification
  • A background and interest in research in ageing
  • An interest in appropriate methodologies for the project
  • Skills in time management and completion of work

How do I apply?

Applications should include a covering letter; a full CV including the names of two referees (at least one referee should be an academic); a transcript/record of detailed grades achieved during previous university studies; a sample of the candidate’s written academic work; and a short summary (maximum 500 words) written by the candidate that explains how they would approach the project’s research. The short summary of how the candidate would approach the research should refer to the project proposal and will be used to assess the applicant’s knowledge of the research field and of relevant methodological issues. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in Stirling or via online methods.

Closing date: Friday 16th August 2019.  Interviews will be held on Friday 27th September

Applications should be sent, by post or email, to:

Suzannah Hunter
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Stirling


Further information

Candidates are welcome to make informal enquiries about the academic project, which should be directed to Professor Judith Phillips dp.researchpa@stir.ac.uk telephone: 01786 467022.

You can also informally approach Leigh Sparks (leigh.sparks@stir.ac.uk) by email or phone (01786 467024).

Posted in Academics, Ageing, Architecture, Community, Consumers, Design, Health, Healthy Ageing, High Streets, Older consumers, PhD, Places, Planning, Public Realm, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Shopping, Streets, Streetscapes, Town Centre Living, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, University of Stirling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Landlords vs Retailers or Zombies vs Aliens?

There are not many reasons for feeling sorry for Philip Green (see my earlier blogs here  here and here and those were before the latest American and other revelations), but the fact that he is in such a weakened state that even the property owners and landlords are almost getting the better of him comes close to one (well, not really).  Arcadia teetered on the brink yesterday as some landlords refuse to meet his demands, but in the end he lived to fight on, even if he did have to put his hand in his own pocket.

In an interview this morning on the Radio 4 Today programme, Philip Green was his customary charming self and seemingly in denial still. But he did rightly say that retailing had changed fundamentally now. That does then beg the question as to whether these CVAs for Arcadia will be enough to save the business, as dramatic as they are? Is closing 50 stores the only shot in the locker? If so, as I have argued before, I don’t see a positive future. What is the compelling offer for the customer?

CVAs have become all the range; landlords and property owners have been all but ordered to wind their ‘greed’ in and to take a ‘haircut’ (difficult if you are bald already) and there is a view that the price of the retail crisis/over expansion is being paid by those left holding the shop portfolio.  The real cost of course is paid by those who lose their jobs or their pensions, but that seems often lost in the debate of who suffers more, the landlords or the retailers?  There is also a cascading impact on other trading retailers who want at least the same terms and so a downward spiral to e new equilibrium continues.

It does seem that this has seeped into public debate as well.  The so-called ‘crisis of the high street’ has seen public media commentary levels (well, volume) rise and issues of closed stores, CVAs, property greed all come to the fore.

Heading off for the train the other morning and walking through Stirling town centre I spotted that the Edinburgh Woollen Mill store had ‘Closing Down Sale’ posters in its windows.  Closer inspection saw ‘subject to landlord negotiations’ across the signs.  The photograph below shows this.


Now, I was not sure what to make of this and being inherently cynical, I immediately assumed it was a play to allow the ‘closing down’ claim which will make customers feel there must be real bargains around.  My cynicism might be misplaced; but then maybe not.  After all why tell customers you are in negotiations if you are not (or if you are?)?

Various twitter exchanges stepped up and pointed to other examples across the country.  Some of these (and not all are Edinburgh Woollen Mill) have been in this ‘closing down’ mode since before Christmas apparently.  Such signs are not uncommon.

If this is real then it simply expresses the difficult relationships in the sector currently.  But why bother telling customers?  If it is not real then it simply depresses me further – is this really the best our retail management and owners can do?  Are customers taken in by such things?  The “death of the high street” has many parents, but we sometimes overlook bad retail management and operations as a factor.

Posted in Advertising, Arcadia, Closure, CVA, Inter-depenendencies, Landlords, management, Philip Green, Property, Rates, Rents, Retail Change, Store Closures, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment