A review of high street footfall data from across England has revealed that the Covid-19 vaccination rollout helped town centres bounce back after Covid-19 lockdowns, the High Streets Task Force has revealed.
The Footfall Review 2020-2021 also found that town and district centres offering attractions beyond traditional high street retailers had fared best at recovering after the Covid-19 pandemic, with smaller, local high streets proving the most resilient.
The High Streets Task Force, commissioned by government in 2019 and run by the Institute of Place Management, analysed footfall in 600 city, town and district centres throughout 2020 and 2021. After the initial lockdown, regional cities each saw footfall decline by approximately 10 million visitors on average, however, all district centres analysed and almost half of towns saw pre-pandemic footfall recover to normal levels by summer 2020.
In 2021, once the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine had begun in earnest, footfall levels recovered much faster following the reopening on non-essential retail, which more than doubled in the first week following the easing of restrictions this year.
Professor Cathy Parker, study co-author, Task Force Research Lead and Professor of Marketing and Retail Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University, said:
“Our analysis showed the reassuring signs of the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the pace and trajectory of footfall recovery. We can’t be complacent about public health and its crucial role in ensuring people feel safe in our town and city centres.
“We can say with confidence that small, local high streets have recovered quickest, and that towns with a defined sense of place and role beyond template retail have shown greater resilience.”
Of towns that have recovered, the High Street Task Force report found that those attracting ‘staycation’ holidaymakers and so-called ‘speciality towns,’ such as Congleton, with heritage attractions, green space and other draws beyond traditional retail offerings were most likely to have seen footfall return to pre-pandemic levels.
Retail-led town centres, however, which locally included Macclesfield, Chester and Altrincham, have largely not returned to pre-pandemic footfall, continuing the trend of declining visitor numbers recorded in the three years before Covid-19 that saw a 60% decline in shoppers. The data further strengthens the case for town centres redevelopment to shift away from traditional shopping centres and retail offerings and evolve into more multi-functional roles.
The full report, Footfall Review 2020-2021, is available to download in from the High Street Task Force website.