Posted by Estates Gazette on 14th Dec 2019

While shopping has historically been at the heart of our town centres’ vitality, we are all now acutely aware that the seismic structural shifts in retail and the consequent oversupply of floorspace in many town centres is creating the core challenge for our industry: how can town centres evolve and remain relevant to the communities they serve?  

One experience tells us that one size does not fit all as the starting point when grappling with the retail repurposing challenge. In fact, being able to curate bespoke solutions relevant to a specific town centre is key. The range of alternative uses/amenities that could transform a town centre are many and varied, although often people initially default to residential as being the principal solution.  

Our industry is moving steadily towards data-driven solutions, and at Ellandi we are at the forefront of this approach, placing insight at the heart of our repurposing strategies. Insight is about developing a deep, strong understanding of place through data analysis, expertise and stakeholder engagement.  

Innovation hub

In the Marlands shopping centre in Southampton, Hampshire, we wrestled with the thorny challenge of how to re-let a vacant 13,000 sq. ft space on the second floor that was once part of a department store.  

By engaging with the local authority, we identified the need for high-quality co-working innovation hub in the heart of the city centre. Southampton is home to two major universities, and one of the council’s important aims was to retain that pool of highly skilled graduates within the city.  

We were able to structure an agreement whereby Ellandi invested in enabling works, Southampton City Council signed a lease, while investing around £1.5m in fitting out the premises. The Barclays Eagle Labs team now manage the space on behalf of the council.  

This has resulted in high-quality, flexible workspace that is a creative hub for young, bright entrepreneurs to share ideas and learn business skills in a central city location close to public transport.  

The Network Hub offers the opportunity to connect with like minded entrepreneurs, local organisations, universities, industry bodies and potential clients and investors. These resources provide more opportunities for Southampton start-ups and scale-ups to grown, in turn strengthening the city’s established position in the digital sector.  

City centre locations can and should be used creatively to become new hubs for the communities they serve. The work “partnership” is often over-used, but this repurposing initiative was a genuinely successful three-way collaboration.  

Leisure uses Leisure uses in their many guises can also be successfully deployed to repurpose retail spaces. In the same shopping centre we have recently completed a 12,000 sq. ft letting at first-floor level to a new children’s play centre.  

We identified the need for more community facilities of this nature in the city centre and we were able to work closely with an excellent operator to deliver the idea on sensible commercial terms.  

Retail will always have an important role to play at the heart of our town centres, but the purpose and function of that space is evolving and needs to. An approach based on creativity, collaboration with the public sector and all key local stakeholders and being open/flexible to new ideas are all part of the equation in identifying successful retail repurposing solutions.

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