Convenience and Local Shop Retailing (and the new @Coopuk @StirUni)

On the 22nd October the Co-op opened its latest convenience store, at the heart of the University of Stirling.  This was the first Co-op franchise in Scotland and is part of the growth of the Co-op and the convenience and local store sector.  At the University, we are delighted to see it appear on campus, in our refurbished Atrium, and look forward to all staff, students, visitors and the community benefitting from it.

As noted widely (and as the graphic below shows), the pandemic has seen many local, convenience and community stores gain trade, especially in the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown.  Many seemed to have fewer supply problems, but also provided a vital local and community service, and expanded these services (including online and delivery).  Many consumers had not previously really experienced the transformation of the sector and the high standards and quality provided.  Hopefully many will continue to support local stores as things ease, recognising the benefits they offer.

Source: SGF The Scottish Local Shop Report 2020

The size, importance and transformation of the sector have been analysed in the recently published (by the Scottish Grocers Federation) Scottish Local Shop Report 2020 (the Scottish companion piece to the ACS Local Shop Report).  This is a comprehensive analysis of the sector in Scotland (and also has some UK figures).  It shows, for example that the over 5000 such stores in Scotland directly employ c47,000 people and they invested £62m in their stores last year.

Less obviously, the owners/managers are often female (39%) and/or from ethnic minorities (47%).  They offer more services than many expect (bill payments, free ATM, cashback, click and collect and a post office for example).  Their community involvement is impressive both in physically and commercially obvious terms (their local sponsorship and engagement) but also in the ‘community glue’ sense.  Being local, their staff and customers are often active travellers (walk, cycle to store), so reducing congestion and pollution.

These are just a handful of the figures from a comprehensive and informative report on the sector in Scotland. The report is well worth a read to get a better sense of the sector than I can give in a short post.  Better still, seek out your local store (including the new store at the University of Stirling if you can), if you don’t already and check it out.  What it offers may surprise and hopefully please you.  Such stores are an increasingly significant part of our retail mix, and one with many benefits.

The report can be downloaded here.

Scottish Grocers Federation – The Scottish Local Shop Report 2020, can be downloaded from the SGF here.

Posted in Association of Convenience Stores, ATMs, Community, Consumers, Convenience, Convenience stores, Cooperative Group, Cooperatives, Covid19, Entrepreneurship, Food Retailing, Independents, Local Retailers, Post Offices, Scotland, Scottish Grocers Federation, Scottish Local Retailer, Scottish Retailing, Self-checkout, Small Shops, Uncategorized, University of Stirling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COVID-19: How Scotland’s Improvement Districts are supporting businesses and communities

In any normal year, we would be meeting at this time in Holyrood for the Annual Parliamentary Reception for the Cross Party Group on Towns and Town Centres. This of course is no normal year. The event is instead being held online tonight (3rd November, details and registration via the link) and its focus is on the work of Scotland’s Improvement Districts in supporting local business and encouraging the public to safely use their local services. As the infographic below shows, they are using many approaches ot meet these local needs.

The event, Chaired by John Scott MSP (the Convenor of the Cross Party Group) will hear about Scotland Loves Local (Phil Prentice), the Local Focus and National Impact of Improvement Districts (Alison Evison and Roddy Smith) and then a Ministerial Address from Aileen Campbell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government.

Lowering the tone and quality I will then provide closing remarks. In trying to think what I could say, I was conscious that I could not do justice the many excellent local activities of the Improvement Districts at this time, so my remarks will be general. The news section of Scotland’s Improvement Districts website however provides many good examples of the local work that has been undertaken.

I intend to talk around the following:

The Scottish Government through these challenging times has provided direct funding of Improvement Districts, the ability to extend renewals via the emergency Coronavirus Legislation, Towns and BIDs Recovery Funding, Town Centre Capital Fund and the Scotland Loves Local campaign and funding support. Whilst the pandemic continues to present major issues in all aspects of our society and economy, the leadership, solidarity and support demonstrated by Scotland’s Improvement Districts, and enabled by Scottish Government, has been commendable from the outset.

The Scottish Government’s BIDs Resilience funding in March allowed us to ask BIDs to pivot from “business as usual” to create hyper local support structures. BIDs have since performed a range of vital activities to help businesses navigate their way through the complexities of Grant funds, Job Retention, Loan Funds and VAT and Tax deferrals. They have delivered PPE infrastructure, Marketing and On line platforms and either led or actively participated on local Resilience partnerships to focus on vulnerability. Their selfless efforts extended well beyond their levy paying memberships to help surrounding towns and settlements.

This local leadership, knowledge and agility has all underlined just how important Improvement Districts are to their local communities. A source of real encouragement has been the renewed positivity in the relationships between BIDs and Local Government – they agreed local responses and effectively delivered and indeed continue to deliver these across the country

Looking forwards, the next few months will be challenging but the solidarity and resilience shown by Scotland’s Improvement Districts throughout the year will no doubt help to see us through. The Scottish Government has just awarded the second round of BIDs Recovery funds to help maintain the momentum behind a safe and gradual reopening and our local recovery.

We have a national campaign building on localism, sustainability and community wealth – I would encourage all our cities, towns, improvements districts and neighbourhoods to back the Scotland Loves Local call to action, your support will help build a stronger and faster economic and social recovery.

We can extend the Improvement District concept even further – we already have a successful model for towns and cities, there are Digital, Food and Drink and Tourism Improvement Districts. Our focus will increasingly also be on creating more community focused improvement districts, a model which embraces businesses, communities and local stakeholders working together to develop and implement consensual visions and activities.

Looking beyond the pandemic, we need to renew our vision for a more sustainable and equitable Scotland. The Programme for Government has set some ambitious goals, a greener and fairer economy, the wellbeing economy, more social ownership, opportunities around housing, energy and digital to create better places for everyone, the 20 minute neighbourhood concept – Scotland’s Improvement Districts will be part of this ambition and will continue to support their local communities beyond the current crisis.
Posted in Bids Scotland, Covid19, Cross Party Group, Government, Local Authorities, Localisation, Scotland Loves Local, Scotland's Improvement Districts, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How is Coronavirus affecting the UK’s Retail Sector?

A couple of months ago, Professor Graeme Roy of the Fraser of Allander Institute invited me to try to answer the question posed at the head of this post.  He is part of / leading an ESRC funded ‘observatory’ (Coronavirus and the Economy) which has been publishing such summary works on the progress of the pandemic and the economy, mainly from an economic viewpoint.

I thought it might be interesting to do, and so agreed.  The outcome has just been published and the full piece can be found here.

How is coronavirus affecting the UK’s retail sector

I am not going to summarise or reproduce the piece here, but would rather encourage you to visit the observatory to read it, and some of the other pieces published there.  I think it is an interesting and informative collection.

My piece follows initially some well-known ground.  After noting the scale and importance of the retail sector it briefly recaps the essential vs non-essential issue of shops under lockdown.  It then covers again the impacts of lockdown as for example in panic-buying, altered demand, supply chain issues and then the rise of sales via the internet and in local stores.  Some of this I have covered in more detail before in various posts (retail armageddon, changing retail priorities, retailing, shopping and covid-19, the impact of lockdown, Scottish and online sales in lockdown).  The graphs below (the observatory piece has updated figures) show some of the differential impacts and the variations.  These are still going on and working through the system and as local lockdowns and restrictions are more commonly imposed, will have even more disruptive effects on general patterns. This can be seen playing out in Wales with the closure again of non-essential retailing during the “fire-break”, some revision to original rules on what could be bought, and the probability that such measures will be a frequent part of our winter.



In putting together the piece, I read a lot of commentary on the situation and came across various sources of data being used.  Some of these are more novel or radical than others, but there is a sense that if we could join up some of these sources and bring things together then we could get a much better, more comprehensive and consistent, data supply based around coherent definitions of place and activity.  At the moment the data is often very interesting but partial or restricted and so coverage and comparability remain an issue. National data tells us some things, but understanding the impacts and the situation on the ground, in towns and cities, is really very important. We are not that well served at the moment, though there are some very interesting “green shoots” of this approach, as some of the publications noted in my commentary are demonstrating..

Can we thus get to a comprehensive understanding of retailing and consumer behaviour at both a local and a national level, and do this consistently? If we could, then there might be a different sense of the impact of the virus on the retail economy and eco-system and what measures might be suitable for what places. We also might have a more realistic expectation of outcomes. At the moment, as the recent weeks have shown, there seems to be a lot of mis-information, rhetoric and assumption and not enough grounded evidence. Hopefully, from this pandemic a positive story around enhanced existing and novel data for the UK at various levels can emerge.

Posted in Academics, Cities, Competition, Consumer Change, Consumers, Covid19, Essential Retailing, Food Retailing, Internet shopping, Local Retailers, Lockdown, Non-Essential Retailing, Office for National Statistics, Panic buying, Retail Change, Retail Sales, Retailers, Retailing, Sales, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Great Expectations

I was not intending to add to my previous two posts on data and reporting (footfall and store openings and closures), but then I saw the coverage (looking at you again in the first instance BBC) of last week’s Scottish Retail Sales Monitor figures for September.  The headline that caught my eye was:

‘No recovery in sight’ for Scotland’s high streets.

Photot taken 23rd October 2020

To be fair the main page now reads ‘Covid in Scotland: No recovery in sight for retailers’ so the phrase (in that context) that offended me so much, ‘high streets’, may have been due to a rogue web/sub editor. 

The release for SRSM that I see has no data specifically on ‘high streets’ but is instead a sector level report (and as I have written before is always intersting and valuable).  But why this release contains a quote from KPMG saying ‘a slightly less bleak picture for Scotland’s High Streets’ is a mystery, but might be an explanation for the headline above and absolve the BBC a little. If there is data that is not published on high streets then it might be good to release it for many reasons.

However as I read the details in the SRSM I got a little more confused by the other phrase i.e. ‘No recovery in sight’. 

The SRSM reports on 5 elements at a Scotland level and the front page commentary compares the current month to the average of the last 3 months and the last 12 months.

The table below summarises that data and that page.

CategorySeptemberLast 3 monthsLast 12 months
Scotland LFL-6.3%-7.5%-8.9%
Scotland Total-6.0%-7.2%-9.9%
Scotland Food Total+3.7%+3.0%+3.4%
Scotland Non Food Total-14.2%-15.7%-20.8%
Scotland Non Food Online Adjusted-2.2%-3.0%-12.2%
SRSM: September 2020 (Published October 2020)

What I find interesting is that the September figure is in every case better than the 3 month and the 12 month averages.  I don’t see how the phrase ‘no recovery in sight’ can be justified.  ‘No return to growth’ is plausible (though food is in growth), ‘still fragile’ is accurate (both quotes in the release by SRC) and “not as good as we hoped for” or even “slightly less bleak” might be true, but September was an improvement on the previous 3 and 12 months.

The BBC reporting – if you read the headline – is that there is ‘no recovery’ and ‘high streets’ are where the problem is.  This narrative is what gets remembered and eventually hard-wired.  It is misleading on both counts.

Scottish retailing is in a fragile state as the SRSM shows.  There is no denying it has been impacted by COVID and I am not taking issue with that thrust of the SRSM. According to the SRSM it is also not doing as well at the moment as the UK as a whole, but that may be a different question to consider again.  Retailing faces many challenges as a sector, especially in non-food. Though it is interesting that the Office for National Statistics latest release seems to run rather counter to the SRSM.

My question though is what are our expectations here?  Implicit in the reporting and the SRSM release is a sense that we should have returned to ‘normal’ or ‘previous’ (pre-pandemic? pre-internet?) by now.  Why?  We remain in a pandemic; there are restrictions on movement; many remain working from home; much purchasing has been postponed or cancelled as no longer needed; consumers are nervous about the physical activity of shopping and their own economic futures and in some cases are reassessing their behaviours and needs.  All this is understandable. So, is 6.0% below last September (when none of those factors really were in play) an unreasonable expectation or outcome therefore (actually it is 4.4% if inflation adjusted as the SRSM notes)?

Retailing is a sector under stress (but was so prior to the pandemic) and there are real and understandable worries at a sector and a company/store level.  The more we can support retailers, especially around the coming critical months (if we go into “fire-breaks or lockdowns as in Wales, how consumers are going to react to Christmas and when the COVID rates holiday ends in March) the better. The “no recovery” and “it’s all a disaster narrative” may be themselves driving adverse outcomes. This is a sector undergoing structural alteration and consumers are re-evaluating and altering their behaviours. Retailing can recognise and react/lead this and be successful.

I am left wondering at whether September’s performance has rather exceeded my expectations therefore, rather than there being no recovery in sight? I think the data supports that view.

Posted in BRC, Consumer Change, Consumers, Data, Food Retailing, Non-food retailing, Retail Change, Retail Sales, Retailers, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Retail Sales, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Openings and Closures in 2020 – but of what?

Source: BBC (Note the elision of the numbers, the high street and the the term “chain store”)

The retail news cycle last Sunday was dominated by the Local Data Company/PwC report on openings and closures in the first half (well, to August) of this year. The headlines were positively apocalyptic, led by the BBC with its unambiguous statement:

“Coronavirus drives shop closures to new record” and the opening sentence “A record number of shops closed on UK high streets during the first half of this year”.

So that’s that then. The high street is dead and we can all stay away. But there’s just a few problems with this:

1. The report is NOT just about shops – it covers services and leisure as well

2. The report does NOT cover independent businesses, including independent retailers

3. It actually is NOT the UK, as Northern Ireland is not included

4. It does NOT cover all retail locations, but is not only about high streets

5. But the report DOES SAY that openings were at a three year high

Now, there are elements of reality in the broad statements beyond the headlines. Undoubtedly we are living through a period of change, But, the doom and gloom narrative for retail on the high street is just too convenient a hook for a report that is not solely on that topic. Why do we have to put up with this?

Interestingly, the press release from PwC and the more detailed document on their website paint a more nuanced picture. They talk (in the main) about store openings and closures and point to the sustained level of the former. They couch their story in a discussion of systemic change, too much space over decades, accelerated impacts, local high street growth, sectoral variations and the issues around COVID19 and ongoing regulations. This is not sugar-coated and they point to likely future impacts, but it is realistic and far more reflective than the media headlines (and it was not just the BBC, see Guardian (and note the headline states clearly “shops”) and Independent for example).  But, even their commentary talks about shops and retailers when the survey is not focused on these and when the coverage is partial.

There are also some more odd things in the press release and commentary. Two examples will suffice:

(a) That the high street recovery will not be based on retail alone – odd as the data here are more than retail yet the release focuses on shops

(b) That the 10pm curfew will have a devastating impact on the sector – odd as I don’t think that much of a proportion of shops are open after 10pm (see my previous post for more mis-reporting on this).

These are in my view sloppiness of thought and argument derived from the lack of a careful focus on what is actually in the survey (and what is not).

A final niggle, this time about the spatial coverage: the report says it covers “all high streets, shopping centres and retail parks in Great Britain”. The notes for editors in the press release says it is based on 1,925 “locations” (up from the 500 locations which caused so much annoyance to me a couple of years ago and the mis-reporting of “Scottish” data). Yet, the Ordnance Survey (who have been steadily producing some really interesting base data on high streets) state that there are almost 7,000 high streets in Great Britain (this must be right as it was a question of Richard Osman’s House of Games a couple of weeks ago). So, I wonder what is going on in these “other” 5,000 more local high streets? And I wonder if the pattern is the same – or not?

As I stated at the outset, there is no doubt that we are living through challenging and challenged times and many of the broad changes are commonly accepted and understood. But, as the Ordnance Survey notes, in such times we need accuracy and clarity in data (and in my view reporting) and I don’t think we are well served currently on either footfall to store openings and closures. The conflation of high street for retail when many trends are found away from high streets as well is another misleading shorthand. Less hyperbole and more thought about what the data actually is (and is not), and what it shows (or not), and less trying to fit to a story, might help us better understand our businesses and towns, and then do the right thing by them.

I find it remarkable that openings have held up over the last five years and especially in this year. Why is that not an equal part of the story? And that some towns and high streets have done really well during this year. But then that doesn’t fit the pre-planned story does it?

UPDATE 21.10.2020 0815

After scheduling the post above, last night I came across @Soult’s tweet on data issues in Durham, as shown below. Stuff happens I suppose, but some of the changes and alterations seem curious (where did Corby go? Did Durham and Newcastle get confused?). But my eye was taken by the heading of the graphs (by the BBC I presume and not the LDC/PwC) which captions the totals as shops. Are they actually shops? Or are they the retail, leisure, service, hospitality etc operations mentioned in the post above? You might argue it is does not matter if you are reporting on places, but I think it does matter both for places and for retail.

Posted in Academics, Churn, Closure, Consumer Change, Consumers, Data, High Streets, Local Data Company, Media, Ordnance Survey, Resilience, Retail Diversity, Retail Economy, Retailers, Small Towns, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Vacancies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Footfall, Curfews and Data

There have been many outrageous statements made over the last months of the pandemic (and in terms of the subject of this post – footfall – in the months and years prior), but recent offerings have really taken the biscuit.  I’ve railed against the reporting of footfall figures before, but in my view this has now entered a new realm of stupidity and is becoming dangerous, harmful, wish fulfilment, potentially damaging places and businesses.

The heading that caught my eye and got me annoyed was bad enough “High Street footfall plunges after 10pm hospitality curfew introduced”.  What on earth does that mean?  But then there’s the photograph that accompanies it; so obviously a picture of an English high street at 10pm on a late September night – NOT!

Source: City AM

Followed by one of the all-time classic sentences that make absolutely no sense.

“High street footfall dropped sharply last week following the introduction of a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants… the government imposed a curfew on hospitality venues from Thursday, which has caused high street shopper numbers to drop”.

What?  ‘Caused’, ‘Shopper’ numbers to drop because I won’t be able to stay in the pub after 10.  Really??

It gets better still: “The ban on pubs, bars and restaurants opening past 10pm pushed footfall down 52.4 per cent after 11pm.  However retail park and shopping centre visitor numbers rose 1.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively”.

Again, what does this mean?  Are the retail park and shopping centres footfall figures comparable i.e. after 11pm?  If not, why are they there?  And why 11pm?  Why not 10pm?  It is almost as though the largest figure possible is being sought so as to confirm a pre-conceived idea.

There can be no doubt that hospitality is concerned about the ban.  There is also little doubt that footfall numbers are not where they were.  Why would we expect anything else?  We are in the midst of a pandemic, there are lockdowns across the place and people are worried and have changed behaviours in work, shopping and leisure.  Comparisons are always to the pre-covid situation, and always positioned negatively, as though pre-covid was some sort of nirvana and the expectation of the levels of activity we should be having now. We should be thinking about what our expectations are, and how we imporve the situation, not mixing up shoppers, footfall and late evening curfews into one mess of a story.

But the press coverage of these figures and the press releases which frame the story (as most press seemed to simply regurgitate them) did highlight one valuable lesson:

Footfall figures are not shopper numbers, and are not retail sales.

The conflation of footfall with shoppers has to stop.  The data have shown clearly these are workers in some cases, drinkers in others, leisure seekers in more, as well as shoppers.  The totality is not shoppers in the retail sense and to conflate these with high streets is equally a false narrative.

Footfall figures have a place in our understanding of activity, but are in serious danger of being mis-used and identified with a dangerous single narrative.  Activity has changed and we need to understand the elvels and the changes. But, we need to understand what lies behind the figures and what they tell us over specific places and longer periods, and not simply strive for the current news cycle headlines.  The constant search for publicity is helping no-one, not least the businesses they report on. The businesses and towns struggling through these unprecedented times deserve better.

This is the first of two posts this week which whilst on different topics have the same base theme: the inadequecy of some of the reporting on retail and high streets during the pandemic

Posted in Consumers, Covid19, Government, High Streets, Media, Places, Public Policy, Retail Policy, Shopping, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Week 26 in my Greenhouse

Anyone who follows me on twitter will have become used to Saturday pictures and tweets about the progress or not in my greenhouse.  On the 28th March I began (week 1) and here we are at week 26 – half a year later.  Lockdown and the pandemic in vegetables and the occasional flower.

I have not used this blog for personal things, with odd exceptions; a sort of retail related Welsh rugby story (yes I’m still bitter Alain Rolland) and the death of my father (which is also rugby related).  So this is an exception, but there is a (minor) retail component.

I am doing this because week 26 seems a good place to stop and twitter is not expansive enough for some reflections.  I am stopping because the future week 27-40 something reporting the miserable state of the greenhouse is too much, even for me.  But as they say, I’ll be back.  And this time probably from February not late March.

We always grow things and I like doing it from seed; normally and mainly tomatoes and chillies.  But this year as we thought through the pandemic in March we expanded into a wider range and added potatoes, beans, courgettes and tried a few other things.  We normally get our seed from the wonderful Real Seeds and already had tomatoes (Galina, Dr Carolyn Pink, Ethel Watkins, Red and Green Zebras), chillies (Pretty in Purple) and courgettes (Verde di Italia, Biopees Golden and a Patty-Pan) in hand.  As lockdown hit us we added potatoes, runner beans (we had Czar from Real Seeds) and peas/broad beans from Suttons, as others had no stock due to increased demand.

Pretty much all of these worked; Maris Peer, Arran Piper and Charlotte potatoes, Scarlet Emperor runner beans and Sutton broad beans and peas.  Burpees Courgettes and Patty-pans were disappointing.  Some old beetroot and radish seeds failed.  Our herbs, again from Suttons, worked brilliantly (thyme, basil, sage, coriander, rocket and some lettuce).

Doing all this helped me get through the lockdown; I was one of the fortunate ones to have such an outlet.

As I said we saw a lack of product in many online stores and Suttons took their time but came through. Garden Centres of course were badly hit by lockdown.  We used a local one to get some pots and compost and they were brilliant in delivering (Torwood Garden Centre).  They took orders by telephone and next day delivery happened like that.  We’ve visited since they’ve been allowed to open, and they’ve done an impressive distancing job.

The other thing we started (not before time) due to lockdown was composting.  We had to wait for our composter due to high demand, but it seems to be working.

My flower sideshow saw our Nemesias and Rudbeckias really work, but the star of the show has been single dahlias from seed.  Never done that before and they’ve been brilliant.

In terms of retail spend I suspect I have spent a little less than normal though it is hard to assess.  The composter was an addition.  I missed going to garden centres and lockdown and thus avoided temptation, but we did buy things we needed online or over the phone.  Service and availability was understandably slower and lower than normal but we got everything in the end.  Retail coped, but the cost one suspects in lost sales has been high especially as so many garden centres rely on their café.  Perhaps though if people have had a good experience of growing from home they will continue next season.

And for my trusted gardening followers, there may be occasional tweets from the greenhouse, but then I may well be back once I start the new season.

Posted in Availability, Covid19, Food, Garden Centres, Gardens, Lockdown, Logistics, Retailers, Retailing, Rugby Union, Seeds, Twitter, Uncategorized, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Commuting and Retailing in Town Centres

It is not an unusual state of mind these days, but I am puzzled over a couple of things that have been the topic of discussions (or in the first case the media as well) I have been in over the last week or so.

The first is the approach, perhaps best articulated by members of the UK Government, to shame people back into work.  ‘Get back to work’ is the instruction; which comes as a surprise to many who had never stopped working but had just changed their mode and place.  The aim seems to be to save service businesses in big cities. The Scottish Government wanted no part in this and their advice remains work from home if you can.

Many people have told me that the novelty of working from/at home has worn off somewhat and that they miss aspects of their formal work sites.  But in the same sentence they rail against the unpleasantness (money, time and environment) of their daily commute, especially into our larger cities.  If the best we can envisage for our future is to continue to cram people into tin cans of various shapes, sizes and forms and force them to travel large distances and for substantial times and then herd into crammed buildings, all to do much what they could do from home or from a more local co-working centre, then we really have not got any ambition, imagination or sense.  The ‘daily commute’ became a swear word for a good reason.

There appears a challenge underway to the status quo, which as there are beneficiaries and losers is an issue. The eventual outcome will not be the extreme lack of commuting as it is now, but will see a reasonable transformation.  We will see a move back, but hopefully not wholescale and not to the previous levels – we can use technology to be more productive.  Cities have many attractions for many people and given them space to breathe will be a good thing.  People getting back their lives by reducing elements of their jobs they hate – and which are essentially unproductive – is also a positive thing in terms of individual and corporate wellbeing, as well as the economy and the environment.  Local places around cities can benefit from this.

My second puzzle has been the refrain that the problem with town centres is that they are too dependent on retailing.  This is then followed by the claim that out-of-town retailing and the internet have destroyed town centres.  I must confess to now beginning to challenge people when I hear these statements being made in the same discussion.

If town centres are too reliant on retailing then it is not because there is an insatiable, unending and overwhelming demand for retail space in your local town, which is driving out all other uses.  It is because lots of these other uses have also moved away from the town centre.  Which is why I also get very irritated by out-of-town retailing being blamed for the town centre problem.  As I have pointed out, all too often I suspect, we have decentralised so many things beyond retailing (you can see my example of Stirling in Julian Dobson’s book and in one of my presentations on this blog.  The problem is decentralisation per se and the lack of reasons to visit a town or abilities to live, work and play there.  The over reliance on retail in town centres is due to the under-presence of a breadth of other activities.  This is where we should be focusing.

For towns, these two issues may be about to collide.  Working at home is not the perfect solution for all, nor for all of the time.  Combining it with working locally – in a range of spaces and combinations to be developed – can be a boost for local places.  These new spaces need to be in accessible town centres and not reused decentralised offices or shops or retail warehouses or industrial estates accessible only by car.  No doubt there will also be a need/desire to work at times and points collectively, both locally and in large cities and offices.  It is the mix of all this, and the control it could give people that is interesting and exciting, as well as producing a more healthier and sustainable set of activities and places (and individuals).

Posted in Cities, Commuting, Decentralisation, Government, Localisation, Places, Reinvention, Retail Parks, Retailers, Retailing, Shopping, Stirling, Sustainability, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Buttercup Dairy Company

Buttercup tiles from book

One of the most enjoyable things about social media is the ease of connectivity to people, their work and interesting (well, to me) things.  It really is so much more simpler and easier than decades ago.

A good example of this is the fascinating and informative work of Lindsay Lennie (@historicshops) and Kathryn Morrison (@KA_Morrison) on historic shops and retail store design.  There are others as well (see the discussion of Burtons in previous posts and the recurring themes of ghostsigns), but from Lindsey and Kathryn I have been exposed to fascinating and informed discussion of retail and shop history.  I doubt whether this would have occurred quite like this pre-digital era.

That is how I came to learn about the Buttercup Dairy Company.  It was not a business that I was aware of, and it turns out to have an interesting story, including visually. The iconic image above must have come to my attention at some point in a discussion of tiles (probably from @historicshops) as it was familiar to me.  I think I also have a pre-pandemic notion of one of their shopfronts being recovered and restored this year (but see later). Given my interest in ghostsigns and design (though I am an amateur) and more recently, surviving Welsh dairies in London, something must have stuck in my mind about the style of this forgotten business.

But then in August, Kathryn Morrison produced her blog post on the Buttercup Dairy Company and summarised its fascinating, and in store terms, beautiful history.  It is an interesting retail story in its own right and her blog is well worth a visit and a read (I am not going to summarise the story here, so you might as well give her blog a visit). A tweet about visiting a good store survival (in design and tile terms) in Carnoustie added to the story.  Then I realised that Malcolm Fraser was the partner in the refurbishment of the Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh store (and its reveal of the historic fascia) for his new practice office (see @F_L_Architects).  The old and the new mixing together. His story on taking over the shop and uncovering more of the history has been reported here. He also kindly sent me the photograpahs of the shop front and his practice office and permitted their re-use below.

Buttercup DairyButtercup Dairy interiorButtercup Dairy 2020Buttercup Dairy 1920s

Kathryn Morrison’s blog also pointed to a book from a decade ago by Bill Scott, which I had missed at the time.  Getting a copy of this in this modern era was only a few clicks and a post office delivery away (if only there was a local bookshop) and more of the story was revealed.  There are good and bad parts to the history of the Buttercup Dairy Company but it has had a place in Scottish retailing and Scotland’s towns.  The fact that elements of the great design and tiling can still be seen is even nicer.  Others are better placed than I to reflect on the design, the style and the significance, but I have really enjoyed simply reading the story and seeing the images.  It has also made me want to visit some of the surviving examples (a list as at 2011 is in Bill Scott’s book).

Buttercup scott book cover

There was also a further part of the story.  As noted above, in this digital, lockdown era, tracking down a copy of Bill Scott’s book was easy.  A couple of clicks on AbeBooks and it was on its way to me.  As was an email.  The email told me the book was on its way.   But it also told me that the supplier was the on-line arm of Far From the Madding Crowd, Linlithgow, awarded the best independent bookshop in Scotland in 2017.  The email told me about the store (and invited me to visit), its events (real and digital) and its involvement in local festivals and so on.  It was simply a neat example of connecting with an online customer and linking services and the business to the bookshop, even in these times.   Rather different to the run-of-the-mill lack of engagement and communication of so many online businesses.

Buttercup far from the Madding


Bill Scott (2011) The Buttercup: the remarkable story of Andrew Ewing and the Buttercup Dairy Company. Leghorn Books, Alnwick. ISBN 978-0-9569206-0-7

Kathryn Morrison (2020) Buttercup Dairy Company. August 12th 2020.




Posted in Architecture, Books, Buttercup Dairy Company, Corporate History, Creative Places, Edinburgh, Food Retailing, Grocery, Heritage, Historic Shops, History, Retail Change, Retail History, Retailing, Scotland, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Shopfronts, Signage, Town Centres, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland’s Town Centre Action Plan Review

TC review Logo

On 1st July 2020, it was announced that an Expert Review Group had been formed by the Scottish Government to undertake an appraisal of the Town Centre Action Plan published in 2013 as a response to the National Review of Town Centres (the Fraser Review).  I was asked to chair the Review.

Members of the Review Group include COSLA, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Improvement Service, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Carnegie Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, Public Health Scotland, Sustrans, Development Trust Association Scotland, Inclusion Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The terms of Reference for the Expert Review Group are

“To review the progress and scope of the Town Centre Action Plan, published in response to the National Review of Town Centres conducted in 2013 by Malcolm Fraser and the Expert Advisory Group, and produce a report by the end of 2020 detailing its findings with a revised vision for towns and a means to deliver that vision nationally and locally.

The review will place particular emphasis on how Scotland’s town centres can best recover from the impact of COVID-19, as well as the positive contribution they can make to meeting Scotland’s climate change ambitions and wider wellbeing outcomes. It will identify what further steps should be considered to make towns fit for all in Scotland.”

The Review is tasked with issuing its report and recommendations for consideration by the Scottish Government by the end of 2020.

The Town Centre Action Plan, published in 2013, can be accessed through the Scottish Government’s town centre regeneration page, where you will also find links to the 2013 National Review of Town Centres, as well as one year and two year progress reports on the Town Centre Action Plan.

In announcing the Review, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Ms Aileen Campbell said:

“Town centres are crucial to our economic recovery and renewal as we emerge from lockdown and it’s important we do all we can to support them. COVID-19 has changed the way we all live, work and shop, and we must develop safe spaces that meet the diverse economic, social and environmental needs of city, country, village and island populations.

“By nurturing connections between local producers and retailers and their communities we enhance the wellbeing of our communities.

“Our town centre-first approach has been held up as an example throughout the UK and globally. Now we have the opportunity to develop healthier, vibrant, and greener town centres that support communities to thrive.”

In agreeing to chair the Review, I noted:

“Our town centres need to be successful places which are socially and economically inclusive.

“The National Review of Town Centres in 2013 and the Town Centre Action Plan which followed have provided a pathway for towns in recent years.

“COVID-19 provides a challenge to our towns and town centres, but also an opportunity to rethink and re-energise our efforts to make towns fit for all in Scotland.

“I am delighted therefore to have been asked to lead this new group at this critical and important time.”

In the flurry of activity around that announcement and the subsequent work being put into place, I have neglected to say anything about this on this blog.

Obviously I am delighted to be asked to do this, have enjoyed getting stuck into some of the initial work and am looking forward to reflecting further on the Town Centre Action Plan, updating and filling in gaps and developing extensions that are needed and trying to develop a vision of town centres for our very changed world (and this is not just COVID but also the changed policy and other landscapes in Scotland including the role of Community and the impact of Climate Change).

You can read more about the announcement here. Information and progress reports on the Review’s work can be found here.

As the initial phase, there was a formal call for evidence and a series of oral evidence sessions which took place last week.  We are now reading and synthesising this evidence and reflecting on the changed context since 2013. This will inform our thinking and then we are likely to come out with some approaches and suggestions and test these with a range of stakeholders and others interested in strengthening our town centres.

In addition however, as part of the review, the Expert Review Group is inviting local communities to share their views through a public survey. The survey will run until Wednesday 30th September 2020 at 17:00. It can be accessed here.

On releasing the public survey, I commented again:

“Scotland is a nation of towns. But towns aren’t just a series of buildings, streets and pavements. They are made up of people and local communities. As we begin the task of forging a new vision for towns it is crucial that the voices, views and ideas of local people are at its heart.

“The Review Group wants to hear from as many people as possible about their experiences and their ideas for the future. Local people aren’t just bystanders in our towns – communities are the very life-blood of our society. If we can put together a strategy that has community input and buy-in from the start, it is our hope that we can all share in the responsibility for its success.”

It is important that we get views, not just from those who are normally involved in town centres but in those who use them and would like to see them flourish. We are trying for as broad an engagement as we can and hope that we can think through the opportunities we have to make our towns greener and healthier places. This may involve more radical thinking than we have seen before, given the challenges we now face. I have commented on some of these here before.

Much more is to come on this topic.










Posted in Barclay Review, BIDS, Bids Scotland, Bill Grimsey, Community, Consumer Change, Consumer Lifestyle, Consumers, Government, Health, Internet shopping, Local Retailers, Public Realm, Retail Change, Retailers, Scotland, Scotland's Improvement Districts, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Shopping, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Action Plan Review Group, town centre first, Town Centre Living, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Understanding Scottish Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment