Social Spaces and Places

A number of my colleagues have at times questioned why I bother with this retail blog or engage with Twitter. They tend to view such activity as essentially pointless or potentially taking them away from their research and other activity. I disagree, and view the use of social media – and I know I am perhaps playing with it, rather than seriously utilising it – as an increasingly key part of the research activity.

So, last Sunday morning at 09.00 I found myself presenting to the 2016 Cooperative Retail Conference. The topic of the presentation – A (Retail) Sense of Place – may seem familiar to readers of this blog. And the blog is how this speaking event came about. Late last year, I presented on the subject in Sweden. As with many of my presentations, I put the overheads up on this blog and thus made them freely available (This too runs counter to the views of some of my colleagues – ‘why would you do this, people will use them’; well, yes). Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Cooperatives UK liked what he saw and asked if I would speak at their March Conference on the issues raised. Hence over a hundred people hearing my reprise of the presentation, with some added Cooperative twists.


Photo from @Coopcrofts

It seemed an interesting and useful Conference. As I was travelling to Stratford on the Saturday I kept up with the presentations, via Twitter. James Walton from IGD provoked a lot of reaction, as did other discussions on topics as different as the ageing consumer and business costs. I physically attended a great session with Arttu Laine from Finland and Nick Read from Nisa and after my presentation Jon Alexander really challenged the audience on membership and citizenship (#citizenshift).

In the flesh the audience seemed attentive and the Q&A barely stopped for breath. My challenge to the co-ops to live up to their often claimed strapline of being leading community retailers pushed a few to point out the great stuff they do, but also hopefully gave some pause for thought. Twitter also usefully provided some live reaction to my presentation, and the Twitter responses allowed me to capture (and reflect on) some of the amplifications of some of my points. For example:

We have a crisis of place, of identify, not of the high street (@cooperator1)

You can only renew the high street if you renew the local economy and place (@edmayo1)

Took 40 years to destroy town centres, so it’ll be a while to get them back (@Boylecoopparty)

Community are places of creativity and enterprise where there is a democratic right to shared resources (@edmayo1)

‘You are from a place not a high street’, amen (@jonalex)

For those that are interested, the details of the speakers and their presentations can be found here. The twitter hashtag linking the conference was #CoopRetail.

I enjoyed the Conference and the presentation and discussion – even getting lectured again over how the Co-op invented the self-service supermarket – and hopefully (apparently) the audience did too. The issues we debated are important I believe and we, as academics, should take every opportunity to engage and help – and for me that includes using this blog and Twitter, which have become added tools to aid discussion, dissemination and and the engagement/impact agenda.


Photo by @Cooperator1

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. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Academics, BIDS, Community, Community Co-operatives, Community Development, Cooperatives, Development Trusts, High Streets, Places, Regeneration, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, USP and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Social Spaces and Places

  1. Nelson Blackley says:

    Thanks again for all this information.
    I think social media, and Twitter in particular, is vastly underrated in it’s effectiveness – provided the individual is focused in the accounts they follow!
    I find Twitter incredibly useful as a source of timely and informative retail news and views – through following, for example Neil Saunders, Bryan Roberts, Matthew Hodgkinson, George McDonald, Graham Soult (and of course Leigh Sparks) to name just a few.
    I really appreciate having any retail – related news from the papers and trade press flagged up early and all the feedback, or live tweets, from retail events and conferences – whether quotes, photos or even presentation slides.
    Even better, this type of information is often also provided in greater and reflective detail through blogs etc and then highlighted via an alert via Twitter and/or Facebook. It’s all extremely valuable and so those academics and other experts who take the time to produce these tweets and blogs should be applauded.
    It’s hard to imagine a time when free access to this range and depth of expertise 24/7 in whatever field you might have an interest wasn’t available – and so long may it continue!

    • Leigh Sparks says:

      Absolutely agree with this. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I was initially doubtful about Twitter for my use, but have become converted, especially in terms of following people such as those you mention and in the way it has opened up new contacts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s