The importance of community

Neil Ashcroft, centre manager at St Johns Shopping Centre, Liverpool

It is no secret that the last 18 months have been a challenging time for the retail industry, both in the UK and around the world. With shopping centres as important bases for the local community – places with cross-generational appeal, where people come together and where families and friends make memories – their closure has dealt a blow to grassroots shoppers who rely on their local centres on a regular basis.

As part of the rich tapestry of the city’s cultural heritage, St Johns lives and breathes its local community, and, in this respect, stands proudly apart from its more contemporary counterparts. It is a place where people have been meeting, shopping and discovering for over 50 years, and has become a hub of the local community, a place that brings people together.

It is with this storied legacy in mind that the St Johns team put community values into action each and every day. At centres like ours, it is about finding opportunities to go the extra mile for customers and making a real impact in meaningful ways – from chaperoning shoppers who require assistance around the centre to organising outreach events in the community and helping people access the support they need through our links to local homeless and welfare charities.

These instances of everyday excellence – of going above and beyond to show our gratitude to the people who make our centre what it is – have been sorely missed while physical retail destinations have been intermittently affected during the pandemic. For shopping centres like St Johns, it is about so much more than simply sales, revenue, footfall or occupancy levels – it is about fostering a culture of genuine care for the people who walk through our doors.

As the retail world returns to a version of normality for many, St Johns’ continued care for its shoppers has translated into some significant commercial milestones which highlight the importance of centres engaging with the community.

Since reopening our doors in April 2021, the centre has seen a near return to 2019 levels in terms of footfall, sales, dwell time, customer spend and demand for units, signalling a more rapid recovery than any other comparable shopping centre in the North. But the way community shopping centres like St Johns operate needs to be different. Not in drastic ways, but in ways nonetheless meaningful. As we return to the path of commercial success, our efforts – now more than ever – need to centre our community at every available opportunity and serve their needs.

From continuing to organise outreach events in schools, care homes and community organisations, to fundraising for charities and developing green initiatives that deliver health and wellbeing benefits to people in the local area, St Johns will be proudly serving its community, doing everything it can to effect positive and meaningful change, and highlighting the value it sees in its dedicated grassroots customer base, whose loyalty over the last 50 years will, I hope, extend into the next 50 to come.

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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