L-r Lauren Cairns, Jack Glennon, Sam Colson, Naomi Grant and George Harris. Picture by Paul Heyes.

Inspired by retail guru Bill Grimsey, a group of students from Edge Hill University were set the task of preparing Ormskirk for the 21st century.

Working in small groups, first year students from the Business School visited Ormskirk town centre to observe the current state of the retail and service offer and consider how it may be developed in the future.

In 2013 Bill Grimsey published a report on the state of the high street retail sector titled The Grimsey Review, and his second report The Grimsey Review 2. ‘It’s time to reshape our town centres’ was published in July this year. Bill, along with Edge Hill’s Kim Cassidy, delivered an introductory lecture to students to set the scene for the task with background information about the causes and significance of today’s high street crisis.

“In order to be socially viable in the 21st century, high streets can’t just rely on shops to attract people, their focus needs to shift and town centres need to be repopulated as community hubs,” said Bill. “This can be achieved by focusing on alternatives to retail including housing, leisure, entertainment, education, arts and commercial office space.

“Towns must stop trying to compete with out-of-town shopping parks that are conveniently placed and have free parking. They must create their own unique reason for communities to gather there – being interesting and engaging and altogether a compelling and great experience.

“We should be making these changes now rather than leaving it for the next generation to fix. Securing the future of the high street is hugely important to me as I want to leave a lasting legacy for my five grandchildren and I want them to enjoy being part of a local community wherever they choose to live.”

Students displayed their findings and suggestions on posters which were presented to a panel of experts including Kate Pierce, Principal Economic Regeneration Officer for West Lancashire Borough Council, Dave Mutch from Ormskirk Community Partnership and Greville Kelly, Director of Business Groundwork.

“It was great to be able to collaborate with Edge Hill on this project and hear some really inspirational proposals from the students on how Ormskirk might take on the challenges faced by our high streets today,” said Kate. “The standard of the presentations was exceptionally high but the winning team and runners up all presented really visionary ideas including sophisticated town centre apps, multi-use retail and events offer and sustainable travel options. The next step for the Council is to hear more about these ideas from the winning teams, and, with the University, find ways to bring them to life to truly reimagine Ormskirk.”

The winning team, Transformationalists, focussed on integrating society and building a community, and to attract consumers they suggested developing an app, offering free Wi-Fi, and putting on events suitable for all ages.

Transformationalists was made up of Sam Colson and George Harris (Marketing with Digital Communications), Naomi Grant, Jack Glennon and Lauren Cairns (Business and Management with Marketing).

“I really enjoyed this project and it was a great introduction to the course,” said Lauren. “It was good to work as a team and get to know my class mates, and we booked a room in Catalyst so we got to explore some of the facilities available on campus too.”

“This project really got me thinking outside the box and thinking creatively,” added George. “I think it’s really helped set me up for my degree.”

Kim Cassidy, Professor of Marketing at Edge Hill, said:

“The student response to this task was tremendous and the outputs exceeded my expectations. It was designed to replicate the nature of the student experience here in the Business School where we focus on developing strong links between theory and practice. It was great to get the support of Bill as well as the commitment of members of the Council. Both helped to bring the theory to life and enabled students to develop practical solutions to real issues.”

The posters will be displayed in Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk so members of the public have the chance view the students’ ideas.