It is now widely accepted that the role of retail destinations has evolved considerably. Changes that had taken hold in the last decade have been accelerated by the pandemic and by the ensuing change in consumer habits. The response both from the retail industry and the real estate owners/investors has been widespread and varied. But the common theme is ‘relevance’.

The only way for retail brands and retail destinations can succeed is by remaining relevant to their customers and by delivering experiences and services that ensure they meet their needs.

Neil Churchill, Centre Director, Festival Place

With the benefit of hindsight, it is probably safe to say that the shopping centre boom of the 1980’s and 1990’s didn’t always make a wholly positive contribution to our town and city centres. In some cases, the success of shopping centres came at the expense of the town and centres that they served. By the turn of the millennium, savvy investors and both central and local government had realised that things had to change: successful towns and cities needed modern, convenient retail and leisure destinations and thriving high streets and a wider variety of uses.

Just as this change in attitudes and approach was beginning to take effect across many UK towns and cities, along came the online retail revolution, which – as we now know – completely redefined a nation’s whole way of living. This has put pressure on retail destinations and town/city centres to yet again adapt and to re-examine what their role is. 

We at Festival Place are fortunate to have both a supportive and progressive investor in AEW and a high level of autonomy. As a true town centre-based scheme, we are also closer to the heart of our local community than many other comparable schemes. In that sense, our focus on community has been ever-present, but post-pandemic we have strengthened our connection with the town and people of Basingstoke.

Our offer has evolved to strengthen our ‘services’ offering and the variety of these has increased significantly. Featuring a Covid and flu vaccination centre and an NHS clinic – all under one roof –, a health club, other wellness experiences, cinema, casual and formal dining alongside an array of national and independent retailers, Festival Place truly serves the needs of its community.

This is supported by a wide range of centre management initiatives from supporting local causes to focusing on accessibility, offering weekly ‘quiet time’ shopping sessions and supporting the Sunflower Lanyards scheme and the We Support Deaf Awareness campaign, which means Festival Place really is a place for everyone in the community.

Of course, we are a commercial enterprise, as are our various retailers and operators, but does that mean we can’t also make a positive contribution to our community? Certainly not and I very much hope that we can continue to contribute and remain supportive to the ongoing needs of our visitors and local residents.