The reawakening of our high streets and town centres has been a milestone moment in the route map out of lockdown. But can it also be a turning point in shaping a stronger, more sustainable future? In short: I hope so – it needs to be.
The coronavirus pandemic has both accelerated the realisation that our town centres are changing while heightening appreciation for the vital role of local businesses in our communities.
Each are powerful factors which, embraced positively, can be used to help create communities which are not just stronger, but greener and fairer too.
That’s why I prefer the term “reawakening” from lockdown, rather than reopening.
For much of the past 15 months, we have been in forced hibernation – and it is going to take time to know how we are all affected by such unusual events.
We can all think of shops which are not reopening. Conversely, there are some retailers opening new stores in anticipation of a strong rebound. Consumers seem either delighted to get back into shops or nervous about the thought. Confidence all round will take time to build and consolidate.
So too will getting to a point of stability and certainty. Experiences in Glasgow and Moray in recent weeks are examples of that.
Of course, significant questions exist over which of the changes we have seen to our lives will become permanent. If working from home alters behaviour longer-term, for example, that may bring greater challenges for our major cities, but boosts for our smaller towns.
Time will be the teller. While shop vacancies are increasing, data so far points to the fact that those in Scotland are not currently as high as after the financial crash of 2008-9.
This is testimony to tremendous work ...
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