Made in Stirling

Over the last year I have increasingly argued that with the withdrawal of many multiple retailers from many high streets we are entering a period a major structural change in consumer behaviour and retail opportunities. This will not necessarily be a simple process and it certainly won’t be a painless one. Landlords and property owners amongst many others will have to adjust to this new reality and we will all have to rethink what we expect from town centres and high streets.

But what will this new reality look like? We can all retreat back to the nostalgic views of a high street that probably never really existed, but is this really going to happen across the country and on the scale to replace all our high streets? This seems unlikely. Instead there seems to be a consensus around at least two dimensions:

  • We have to make the most of what we have by focusing on the concentrated core of our high streets – and that means thinking not only about ground floors, but upper floors, and not only thinking about retailing but a range of uses that attract people. Beyond this core we will have to find active different uses for vacant sites;
  • There is not a new wave of multiple retailers out there to fill the voids, but rather we can expect local solutions and localisation to play a stronger role in providing services for the local population. When the large players leave town, then local players need to fill the void, and seem increasingly keen to do so. There is real interest in local solutions and community activities.

One of the things that has struck me when I have visited various other countries including parts of the USA is the availability of local products and services in many towns. This takes a variety of forms but one which keeps recurring is the local craft or artists store – often run on a co-operative or collaborative mutual model. They take various guises but offer local distinctive products that reflect and promote the place. Often they are exceptionally high quality and foster a sense of engagement between people and place and with the creators of the pieces on sale.

Localisation in the UK may not take only this form, and does face many difficulties arising in many cases from the property market and the speed of adjustment that it can incorporate. When landlords and owners are not local, they can often be blind to what is happening and what could happen in particular towns. Risk taking, especially at the current time is not necessarily flavour of the month.

So how do we get local creative solutions to add something distinctive to town centres? Made in Stirling has done just that, and represents a starting point in providing distinctiveness and a statement about a place.

SAMSUNG

Originally conceived as a pop-up shop, Made in Stirling was the first project of the newly formed Stirling Creative Industries Forum (SCIF) and links in with the wider Start Up Street initiative, which is aimed at revitalising the city centre by bringing new and interesting uses to vacant commercial property.

The pop-up shop provided retail and display space for the best work by local artists, photographers, designers and artisans.  It provided information on ‘what’s on’, with daily listings of upcoming cultural and creative events across Stirling, promoting creative venues and activities across the Stirling area.

After running in a secondary site over the summer, Made in Stirling moved to a central site in King Street in the late Autumn. It provided a different face for the search for gifts and presents and solved a couple of my Christmas headaches. Now under the wing of Creative Stirling it is hoped that this showcase for local craft and talent will go from strength to strength. Getting to this point has not been without issues and many hurdles remain in establishing and maintaining such initiatives, but they are essential if we are not to have vacant boarded up store fronts and urban spaces, yet talent and creativity crying out for an opportunity to showcase themselves.

It is one example of the local enthusiasm and talent that is available to fill the many voids in our town centres. There are others all over Scotland. What we desperately need is a more sustainable mechanism of getting them started and established, as our high streets and town centres adjust to the new structural normality.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues.
This entry was posted in High Streets, Independents, Localisation, Places, Pop-Up Shops, Property, Regeneration, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Start-ups, Town Centres and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Made in Stirling

  1. Thought provoking – as ever – Leigh. All strength to ‘Made in Stirling’ and three immediate reactions on the theme from me.
    First on the use of upper space and the potential of co-operatives. Good few years ago when the BBC & STV HQs in Glasgow were moving across the Clyde into then-darkest Govan I was on a commission with a syndicate of local housing associations. The remit was on ‘decline of our local High Streets and small retail premises’. One concept I tried to progress was the idea of incorporating the increasingly unwanted small retail units within a package that offered the flat above (probably on leasehold or rented basis). My vision was of a return to ‘living over the shop/office’. It seemed to me that the relocation of the media HQs nearby would generate a potential market among the starting-out folks in the media.creative field. In the event the client was un-enthused and It came to nought. But your idea of the ‘upper spaces use’ seems to offer a potentially more feasible concept.
    Second reaction is to support your citing of co-operative and mutual models of ownership/management. There is always a risk of the syndrome of ‘all in favour of apple pie, motherhood … and coops’. I do, however, in my own work, detect recurrent signs of a real awakening of interest in these models in a post financial crisis era when funding and finance are going to remain acutely constrained (for the UK anyway). An event I delivered last summer for the RSA and that focused much on Community Asset Transfer, was full booked and was a lively interactive affair. Meanwhile Susan Deas and her Cooperative Development team at Scottish Enterprise are generating business competence and credibility.
    My final reaction is the well-attested reality that over the recent festive season a real winner was John Lewis Partnership – the consensus seems to be that (aside of the employee-ownership model) the other critical competitive advantage was a classy offline-online amalgam. This is a package whereby their customers can come into the John Lewis store to see, touch and have explained then … then they can ‘go compare’ and buy online – and crucially it was usually John Lewis they purchased from online. As you know I have been bashing on about the need for retail, at all scales and levels, to generate their own offline-online amalgams.

    • Leigh Sparks says:

      Edward

      Thanks for the comments, as always. Fully agree, especially about online, which I may well return to next week. Living above the Shop is a pretty old concept and it puzzles me that despite all the positive comments we really don’t seem to be able to get more uses into upper floors. We are doing a small piece of work on ownership and use in upper floors in one place and seeing if that shows us anything useful or odd. Will share when we have something. Malcolm Fraser is convinced it is due to different Scottish and English legislation, but I am not sure it is all that rosy in England?

      • Definitely problems in England. I don’t know that differences across the border are down to legislation (in fact I suspect that the awful flats leasehold thing in England may be more of a complication in mixed use contexts?) So far as I can see it’s much to do with the insurance element. In England insurance companies get the wind-up as soon as the mixing of flats and ground floor shops/offices is mentioned. I recall a conversation with a (Scottish) acquaintance who was in middle-to-senior-management in a large UK insurer. I pointed out that his company readily insured (building insurance) flats above shops in typical Scottish urban locations – he agreed. I pointed out that in England his company was ‘reluctant’ (e.g. in real-life they just refused) – he agreed. I suggested that there was a bit of an odd inconsistency there – he gave me a look that said “what’s your point?’ Odd indeed; in my time of flat-living in London I know there were a not a few tenants under who were a lot more of a risk to live over than, say, a big chain bookies (not of course that I made much use of bookies).
        (P.S. I must get my WordPress updated as it’s sending notifications to my secondary email, hence me not always picking them up in good time)

  2. Christopher Anderson says:

    Dear sir,
    As you probably remember. I have had 4 canvases on display in your shop on a previous occasion. I was wondering if there may perhaps be any other opportunity? To display my work? Wasn’t it the correct style? I also do work in water color, pastel and pen and ink drawings. My subject of choice is architecture, but I am up for painting landscapes to. Please can you let me know if there are any new chances.

    Kind regards Christopher Anderson.

  3. Pingback: Vacant to Vibrant – We Can Do Messy | Stirlingretail

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