Place Matters: Local Environmental Quality and Charity Retailing

Last Tuesday was one of those days where I was sort of double-booked, and ended up doing two conference presentations, though I prefer to think of it as enhanced academic productivity. In the morning, I presented on the strategic role of towns, and in the afternoon, at a different conference, on retail change in Scotland.

The content of the presentations will not surprise regular readers of this blog (the overheads can be found here), so instead I want to reflect on the subjects of the Conferences I presented at, and only a little on the messages I was trying to say.

The invitation for the morning session came from Keep Scotland Beautiful and was to present briefly to their Local Environmental Quality Conference on the strategic role of towns. Titled ‘Place Matters’, I tried to get over the changing landscape for towns in Scotland, the role of Scotland’s Towns Partnership (of which I am Chair) and the significance of place identity.

The morning of the Conference saw the publication of KSB’s Report on Scotland’s local environmental quality (LEQ) which for the first time in its history recorded a decline in LEQ across Scotland. Much debate at the Conference was on the problems of pride in place when the environment is in decline, and the implications of this for people’s health and lives.

A quick stroll across Glasgow saw me ready to present at the Charity Retail Association Scottish conference. This time my topic was ‘The Changing Retail Scene in Scotland’ and I followed well-trodden ground on the structural revolution underway in retailing. I did try to say something on the challenges and the opportunities for charity retailing within this change.

Others can assess how well I met the various briefs, but there was perhaps more common ground across the sessions than I has at first anticipated. It is all too easy to equate environmental quality with the physical environment – and indeed KSB can sometimes be seen as only interested in litter and graffiti (though this is far from the case) – whereas the social environment is equally important and one that charity retailing is well set to engage with through the circular economy and their socially engaged aspects of operations (both people and products).

Places – towns – obviously need to consider all their environmental aspects, whether economic, physical, social or cultural – as this really does matter to our sense of place, identity and quality of life. It is perhaps sobering that as the transformations in our economy and society wash through our places, both arenas are having to face up to enormous challenges, with little sense that we have as yet worked out where this will end. It does seem clear however that if we want strong places, then we need all aspects of our environment to be fully functioning and engaged.

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.
This entry was posted in Charity Shops, Environmental Quality, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Places, Public Realm, Retail Change, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Sustainability, Towns, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Place Matters: Local Environmental Quality and Charity Retailing

  1. Enjoyed your presentation at the afternoon charity retail event. For me, a main-take away was; charity, or private, or public sector category regardless, what matters is the whole content, activity and quality of the place you operate in (and what you’re adding to it). I don’t know if ‘holistic’ is now considered passe or cliched, but that still does it for me on ‘place’. That, however, does make worrying the LEQ data at the Keep Scotland Beautiful morning session.
    I suspect that many in the charity audience found the deep and pervasive nature of the changes you described a bit daunting – rendering your presentation all the more valuable. Would be good to hear any comments from other attendees.
    (P.S. I hope you got paid double-time rates for the day!)

    • Leigh Sparks says:


      Thanks for the comments. I think the point about what matters is what you are adding to the content, activity and quality of the place is a really good way of thinking about this. Charities and charity retailing add more than a physical space, but perhaps underplay this?

      As you say, the LEQ data is a little worrying as it is the first time we have gone into reverse on this.

      Double time? If only – part of my pro-bono work I see as being “professorial”; not all my colleagues agree we should do these things.


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