The Repurposing Of Retail Space & How It Can Help Our High Streets Recover

Issue 67

It's been a strange old year. It's now just over three years since I got together with Laura Ruxton to take over Dunwoodie Architects and try to realign and reinvigorate the trajectory of the Practice.

At that time the business was located at Prestwick, near the airport, which, whilst being very handy for both of us & a beautiful environment, did not give us the presence or profile we wanted for the business. I’ve had three ‘jobs’ in my career, two on Grey Street & one on Dean Street. I used to joke that there was a track in the pavement that took me up & down from the bottom of Grey Street to the top for close on 25 years! In my opinion, whilst Dunwoodie Architects was a very well respected healthcare practice I felt we needed to raise the business profile and that a crucial element in that was to move it into the city centre. I’ve always said that a city centre address is important in our profession because the amount of business development that happens simply by bumping into people in the street is incredible, particularly in this relatively small city. In addition, the ease with which you can attend business and networking events is also hugely beneficial. Unfortunately, having been in our new office in town for less than a year, we were forced out by the pandemic and we all know the impact that has had on our lives. Fortunately, it looks like there is a ray of sunshine coming over the horizon to save us so we can all look forward to brighter times ahead. What that future will hold for us all in the ‘new normal’ is another matter. However, out of adversity can often come opportunities. As we all know, the retail sector has been decimated by the pandemic and it’s very arguable that it will ever recover to where it was pre-pandemic. How important is that you may ask? Does it matter? I think the answer to that is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’, in that we all like city centres to be vibrant places where we can go & do a variety of things ie shopping, leisure, entertainment, socialising etc., but ‘no’ in that other opportunities can present themselves. From our perspective, as a business now based in the centre of Newcastle, we want the city to be lively, vibrant & active. It’s often said that timing is everything. Just over three years ago, we started work on STACK Newcastle for Danieli Holdings. STACK is a ‘meanwhile’ use, it was never going to be there forever. What has happened since has been quite remarkable. The concept, which Neill Winch and myself researched, mainly in London, has been a rip-roaring success. Unfortunately it was stopped in it’s tracks when Covid 19 came along, but it’s now set to open again soon. Whilst STACK is due to leave its current site in 2024, who knows, it may well find another home. I think what STACK has demonstrated is that in the developing world of the high street, post pandemic, there need to be other drivers to encourage people to come back into the city centres and STACK type leisure developments can be the catalyst in revitalising areas of city and town centres which are currently looking to have a bit of a bleak future. This, combined with more residential development in cities & more niche retail may need to be the way forward as many people continue to work from home. We have only recently completed STACK Seaburn, which is yet to really flex its muscles due to the pandemic, but can you imagine any coastal town not benefiting from such a development with the knock on benefits for the local economy when so many coastal towns are dying on their feet? Whilst STACK Newcastle was designed as a short term fix on an empty site, it may be that we have stumbled across part of a longer term solution to the future of the high street for many towns and cities. Why wouldn’t you want one?

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