High Street urged to embrace new tech at Summit

By Sarah Louise Jordan

The Future High Street Summit took place in Nottingham last week, with delegates focusing on people, purpose and emerging technologies during vibrant discussions.

The Summit welcomed some of the UK’s leading organisations and town centre stakeholders to discuss strategies and visions for the high street of tomorrow. The two day conference ended on a high, with agreement among attendees that embracing technology, supporting staff and engaging with the community are essential factors for success.

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Future High Street Summit founder Clare Rayner, commented: “This year’s event had some great content and an overwhelming response, with almost double the number of attendees, compared to our debut summit in 2014. We covered a lot of topics in a relatively short amount of time, and throughout the event these three messages came across loud and clear.”

She continued: “Of course, every town has a purpose. It has a unique personality, its ‘DNA’, driven by the role it fulfils for the people it serves. Many of the keynotes drove home a clear message about the importance of understanding a town’s purpose – each local authority, town team, BID, town centre manager and volunteer needs to identify what that is for their specific place.”

In one keynote speech, bira’s Michael Weedon urged local authorities to recognise that the independent retail sector has been growing for five years, filling the gaps left on the high street by departing chain stores. However, with the latest figures showing that the rate of growth in indies is slowing, Weedon emphasised that town centre managers need to do everything they can to continue supporting the retailers that have kept our places alive.

The theme of using technology to enable better community engagement and greater business opportunity was also apparent during the event, with retailers prompted to embrace digital advances and tackle the “fundamental skills gap”.

So strongly did the message about digital come across, Rayner plans to develop a spin-off event which will focus on action – what towns can do to engage with both businesses and residents. This event will focus on both activities and events that draw people into town but also on how digital must seamlessly integrate with the physical experience.

Those who missed out on this year’s Summit and want to read more content can search for #FHSS15 on Twitter, or visit futurehighstreet.wordpress.com for eight session summaries that were published live during the event.

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