A recent report produced by Prof Neil Wrigley and Dr Dionysia Lambiri, ‘British High
Streets to recovery? A comprehensive review of the evidence’ as part of an Economic and Social Research Council Project (commissioned by the Government’s advisory group the Future High Streets Forum) provide detailed evidence and discussion around the changes taking place in British town centres and high streets.
The report more generally considers: the impact of the economic crisis on town centres, and how they have changed since; the changing demographic, social and economic contexts of the high street; the rise and effects of ‘convenience culture’; the challenge from out-of-town provision; the challenges of the ‘digital high street’; the role of institutions managing high streets; the perceptions of the high street; and a consideration of factors that might affect the future of the high street.
Given that these days for many towns and cities, cafés have a ubiquitous presence on the high street, the findings from this research is important, particularly as the report highlights that in as part of a long term trend which has significantly affected the make-up of high streets – there has been an increase in leisure services – of which cafés are an important part.
“Town Centres have always been places to socialise and interact. However, as leisure spending has continued to grow differentially in recent years, the provision of leisure services (restaurants, cafes, bars) has become the focus of urban regeneration initiatives” (Wrigley and Lambiri, 2015:p.56).
What’s more they find that high streets are changing because leisure business, like cafés (both chain and independent) are becoming more integrated into town centres, and becoming part of local communities. This in turn is creating benefits for other local businesses due to the associated footfall.
The authors point to a report from Allegra Strategies ‘Role of Coffee Shops on the High Street 2014 Report which indicates that the presence of coffee shops is a key reason for people to choose to visit the high street for shopping over another area, and that in turn they can contribute of a boost to the local high street economy of between 2-4% due to increased footfall and time spent in the area.
“The economic value of the social interaction in the town centre – Social activity enhances a town centre shopping visit, translating into added value in terms of time and money spent in the town centre. Evidence suggests that social interaction in the town centre, such as shopping with friends or family and combining shopping with having a refreshment in a town centre café or bar, increases dwell time in the town and therefore the probability of greater spend” Wrigley and Lambiri, (2015: p.96).
This points to an issue that I am keen to explore, not only what the economic impact of cafés is, but their role in the communities in which they are embedded. To what extent do cafés facilitate community interaction and development, and what ways do they do this? Evidence suggests that:
“people more and more see the value of leisure spaces – spaces for casual dining like cafes, pubs etc – as community meeting hubs and spaces for mobile working and networking” Wrigley and Lambiri (2015: 93).
If this is the case what implications does this have for the café businesses themselves, and other actors involved in the local economic development of the area? Should places be encouraging cafes as ‘spaces of community’?
The report suggests that as the economy continues to recover, and the high street moves through a structural change, there will be a shift away from retail as it has been known, to services, particularly places like bars and cafes (as well as retail services like health and beauty).
“As the UK slowly moves out of recession, it is reasonable to forecast that consumer spending on leisure will increase further, with restaurants, cafés, bars and gyms continuing their growth” (Wrigley and Lambiri, 2015:p100).
This has important implications for the growth dynamics of high streets, and for existing cafés seeking to expand, and for new cafés businesses looking to enter the market.
For the research project I am currently conducting, this report signals the importance of cafés for urban areas, particularly high streets and town centres, signalling a structural change in the way these spaces operate within the urban system.
You can download the full report here.
There are also other reports associated with this project which are worth reading:
- Evolving High Streets: Resilience and Reinvention – Perspectives from Social Science – Edited by Neil Wrigley and Erin Brookes
- High Street Performance and Evolution: A Brief Guide to the Evidence – by Neil Wrigley and Dionysia Lambiri