Halifax stages Digital High Street conference

Digital High Street conference at Dean Clough.  Beth Ward, Rachael Turner, David Carter, Jane Johnston and Denizer Ibrahim.
Digital High Street conference at Dean Clough. Beth Ward, Rachael Turner, David Carter, Jane Johnston and Denizer Ibrahim.

The changing face of the High Street came under scrutiny during a conference at Dean Clough, Halifax.

Digital High Street 2013 brought together local government and business leaders to share ideas.

Several speakers gave their views on a range of topics covering the growing impact of new technologies and strategies to help town centres thrive.

With many believing retail is past its prime delegates were told change is essential going forward.

Neil McInroy, of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies said that change would happen while the economy was cursed by a range of challenges including ongoing economic turbulence.

“It is early days and also an opportunity,” he said.

“We are early adopters of a new movement on how we change the High Street.”

Mr McInroy said the elements of a High Street consisted of retail, public services and social life and the mix was changing with social life now having the biggest share.

That is evidenced locally in Halifax with the Broad Street development and exciting plans for the Piece Hall just two examples.

Mr McInroy said local authorities needed to be more flexible with planning issues to allow buildings a wider range of use.

“We need to challenge the way local authorities make things happen,” he said.

Dan Thompson runs the Empty Shops Network and has written about the problems facing town centres. He said the days of making products in the back of shops and selling them in the front could return and the use of social media had immense power to connect people and created a level playing field for all.

Other speakers covered digital strategy; clustering to reach a mass audience; how towns are using the internet to gain attention with very small budgets; how smartcards and smartphones are connecting retailers and shoppers; what retailers need to do to adapt to keep stores relevant in a digital age; and how digital innovation can strengthen communities and increase the social capital of towns.

The two-day conference was organised by Calderdale based Redlab which organises events to spread ideas in social innovation. Later this year it hosts Smart Towns 2013 to look at what urban areas can learn from cities.