This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week and this Monday Ellandi, working with Knight Frank, published its latest annual research into community shopping centres, titled Beyond Retail.
The report highlights the role community uses play in ensuring the vibrancy of our town centres. But our town centres also play a role in bringing people together, with over 85% of visitors being with a friend or family member.
Loneliness and social exclusion are key factors in mental health. The NHS Long Term Plan recognises the importance of improving mental health provision by expanding mental health services faster than the overall NHS budget and ring-fencing a £2.3bn local investment fund by 2023/24. Another focus of this plan is bringing health back to the high street, which is where community shopping centres can play a key role.
Shopping centres are often at the centre of their communities by virtue of being a large part of a place’s physical infrastructure. But the role they play can have a far greater impact. Community shopping centres are often used for general needs and convenience purchases. Unlike regional destinations, community schemes can capitalise on being conveniently located for the majority of their visitors, with most travelling only 18 minutes to get to their local centre, and operate on a less intimidating human scale, especially for those with disabilities.
Shoppers will understandably travel further to centres with a critical mass of comparison retail, leisure and entertainment, but convenience and ease of accessibility are paramount to users of health facilities, public services and amenities. This makes them obvious locations to host projects to combat social exclusion and loneliness.
At Parkway Shopping Centre in Coulby Newham, consultation with local residents and shoppers made it clear that cuts in public transport had left some of the local community, particularly the elderly, isolated and unable to access the centre.
The centre’s management trialled a weekly Monday minibus service so pensioners could use the Post Office on pension day. Now in its second year, the community bus (pictured) provides an essential twice-weekly service from local villages to the centre, giving people a chance to shop and socialise.
Retaining relevance in town centres is increasingly important in light of the major challenges facing retail and how it needs to reinvent itself to survive, and indeed thrive.
In Bootle, The Strand Shopping Centre’s Toolshed is part of a national men’s shed network that highlights the social struggles of men who are either retired, widowed or out of work and for whom social interaction is a challenge. It provides woodwork workshops and aims to provide a space where local people can come together to combat social isolation.
Providing easy access to community shopping centres with schemes like the Parkway bus and bringing the community together with initiatives such as the Bootle Toolshed are just two ways Ellandi is using its assets to fight social exclusion and promote customers’ mental health and wellbeing.
Ruth Moorhouse is asset manager of Bootle and Coulby Newham and Izzy Hease is head of research and analytics at Ellandi