ELLANDI'S RISING STAR: My parents asked me what the hell I was doing

Posted by React News on 16th Sep 2019

On the eve of REVO, newcomer Holly Russell Kennedy writes about joining Ellandi.......

Leaving a big corporate to join a retail specialist is a leap of faith.....

The challenges facing UK town centres and high streets are well documented, therefore I won’t rehash the bleak statistics on store closures, vacancy rates and the impending doom forecast for these locations.Words and phraseology such as ‘apocalypse’ ‘death of the high street’ and ‘the end…’ are regularly bandied around, and we have arguably not yet hit the bottom. Retail is likely to fall further as the structural, societal and technological change comes to a head and businesses continue to fail to adapt.

Many of our town centres are uninspiring, dejected places; economically stagnant and in a perpetual state of decline. It is a tough task to create, fund and deliver a viable development, alongside the fact that many town centres are particularly unattractive to developers due to the difficulties and delays caused by fragmented ownership, planning and other legal constraints.

How on earth can they compete with the experience that regional destination centres provide visitors, or the practicality and ease that out of town centres offer?Up until now I have been in Cushman & Wakefield’s development and place team, where I began my career following the well-trodden path of APC accreditation in 2016. Here I have gained a breadth of experience in all sectors, with a focus on local authority clients and urban centres, albeit with many projects arguably considered ‘blue-chip’ schemes. Alongside this, I received all the classic corporate benefits, with a weekly delivery of chia seed pots thrown in for good measure.

A concerned phone call 

Bearing this in mind, I decided to leave the cushioned existence of my corporate world and focus my career on town centre redevelopment and repositioning, resulting in a call from my parents to ask, ‘What the hell are you doing?!’

So, what you may ask, am I doing? I have decided that now is the time we (the property industry) should roll up our sleeves and jump into the deep end where the action needs to happen. We are at a point where there has been a significant and ongoing reduction in retail values, which has created both opportunity and need.Reducing existing use values helps create the rationale for redevelopment and the introduction of a broader mix of uses. While there will almost certainly be further declines in retail values, this shake up is exactly what our local centres need, so in theory it’s a blessing in disguise to galvanise change.It is a mammoth task, but we need to recalibrate our high streets and town centres to mixed-use, thriving, engaging and enterprising hubs that are both flexible and reactive, and able to adapt to the exponential social and technological changes of the future.

Ellandi, as a key local stakeholder in 30+ town centres, are well placed to lead in this mission. Alongside expertise in the delivery of repurposing and repositioning of retail assets and local centres we are passionate about getting under the skin of each individual area, using data to create an overall vision and drive decisions, and putting in place processes which enable local community engagement and stakeholder collaboration.The solution for each location and its functions will be unique, but the principles and methods applied to deliver innovative solutions can be similar.Local authorities are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial and the government is providing assistance with initiatives such as the Future High Streets Fund, the High Streets Task Force and the new Towns Fund.

A need for collective buy-in

This is a start, however its really just a scratch on the geographically uneven surface, and its impact will be limited unless it is utilised as a catalyst for local intervention, accompanied by further action by central government, as well as action from owners and occupiers.In order to put this funding pot to optimum use, there needs to be a cohesive vision, leadership and strategy for each location, shared by as many local stakeholders as possible. Public and private partnership will be critical in order to combine expertise, capital and energy in order to identify and communicate the current and future purpose of each of our towns, which will be fundamental in attracting investment from both public and private sectors.It’s exciting to be a part of this movement, and what will be an incredibly worthwhile and rewarding career path provided you can take a long-term view, both in terms of delivery and returns.

We need to seriously re-think some of the key processes and mind sets in the industry, including meaning of 21st century ownership, how space and place is operated and valued, the use of AI to help understand and predict complex systems, and how to accommodate disruptive technologies in the built environment, to name a few.My new career kicks off this week at the Revo conference; I can’t wait to start creating future places that include experience, convenience, community, technology, homes, leisure, workspace, makers, labs, health, studios, diversity, mixed-generations, and perhaps some chia seed pots.



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