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.