How Norwich escaped shopping centre shut downs
- Credit: Supplied
Axe throwing, community libraries and cinemas might have helped Norfolk escape the worst of the retail fallout - albeit by the skin of its teeth.
The region's retail hub of Norwich was previously a location in retail property giant Intu's portfolio, which sold the site during lockdown.
But despite selling off 17 of its assets the landlord behemoth remains in administration, which it filed for in August of last year.
And in a move to avoid such a fate the owner of Birmingham's Bullring, Hammerson, confirmed this week it would cut rents by up 30pc in order to keep tenants in situ.
Moving out from an umbrella brand has given the mall its regional identity back, a spokesman said: "Chantry Place, or Chapelfield in its original guise, has always been a premier shopping centre. The move from Intu branding has enabled us to position Chantry Place again as ‘Norwich’s’, rather than a retail destination which is part of a chain of centres.
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"It has enabled us to bring back much more of a local community focus, which is reflected in the initiatives we have been planning, such as fundraising at our new rainbow for the Jenny Lind Hospital, and in some of the more local retailers who are becoming part of the centre experience."
As a result unlike other regional shopping centres, Norwich's Chantry Place and Castle Quarter have thus far avoided the windows being boarded up.
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The reason, they say, is that they go beyond retail and act as a pillar of community.
Robert Bradley, centre manager at Castle Quarter, began pivoting the site as far back as 2018.
He said: "Through market research we identified that our customers wanted more than just a day out shopping, they wanted an all-round experience and to have fun together at Castle Quarter.
"Our aim was to strengthen our leisure offering, and shortly after the re-brand to Castle Quarter we were thrilled to add PureGym, SuperBowl and the UK’s first Boom Battle Bar to the centre.
"The customer response was brilliant, and footfall surged in the months that followed, with figures up every month, year on year, until Covid struck in March 2020.
"Prior to the lockdown, seeing people visit Castle Quarter to enjoy a day out, and experience everything from the latest film to crazier golf, to bowling, brought a new buzz to the centre and it was lovely to see everyone enjoying their time here."
Investment into the site goes well into the millions after PureGym put forward £1.5m and Superbowl a further £2m.
Vacant units have also been invested in for use such as community libraries and hot desking offices.
Mr Bradley said: "It is so important that shopping centres play a role as community hubs and give vital support to organisations and charities who support people living in the city. Based in the heart of Norwich we aim to be an active, engaged member of our local community, and will work in partnership with organisations to support them wherever we can.
"Prior to lockdown, there was a lot of good, important work happening with Castle Quarter, helping to positively change lives, support those in need and bring the community together. Building these connections with community groups is something that we see continuing in the future."
He added: "Retail will still play an important part in shopping centres, but there is no question that online shopping has had an impact and going forwards we expect to see more unique, niche independent, local businesses opening bricks and mortar shops, alongside national retailers that can bring a really enticing, interesting experience to their stores.
"It is good to be back open, and we will continue to talk to new and different operators, including community services, to ensure Castle Quarter has an attractive offer and meets customer needs and wants."
Moves to leisure and entertainment have also been introduced at Chantry Place with the spokesman adding: "We have reopened after lockdown with all our retailers still with us, plus the opening of a new Subway outlet means that our dining terrace is now fully let.
"In addition, we have a number of new developments on the near horizon which we are very excited about, and we are ahead of the curve in terms of leisure with Escape Hunt and our outdoor space on Chantry Square."
On the potential to add additional services such as healthcare, educational or office units, Chantry Place said: "We would love to and are always looking at trends, but we would need to have a lot of space, which we just don’t currently have."
- Does Norwich have too much retail space?
Anthony Breach, a senior analyst for the Centre for Cities said: "When we look at Norwich we see there is somewhat a reliance on retail - about a third of the city is retail space compared to the national average of a quarter. However it has a much lower proportion of office space - about a quarter compared to the average of a third.
"If we're looking at a long term strategy we know that Norwich needs more high-quality, but smaller office units for highly-skilled, exportable businesses."
Don Williams, KPMG’s partner for the retail sector, added: “When looking at the high street I use the analogy of a car. I can go to a garage and it all gets diagnosed and serviced in one place. For our bodies we have to go everywhere – dentists, GPs, chiropractors – I can see high streets becoming more of a hub for primary care services as opposed to relying as much on hospitals.
“I also think we’ll see a lot more of the education sector coming to the high street. This pandemic has sped up the change towards more digital skills and a lot of people currently in education may be left behind or need to re-skill.”