Students sit round a table and discuss ideas to improve Ormskirk high street.
First year students teamed up to work on a new business idea for Ormskirk high street.

First-year students at Edge Hill University have been set the tricky task of solving a problem faced by some of the best minds in business as high street closures continue.

Hundreds of Business School students have been exploring Ormskirk this week as part of an exercise designed to inspire thought on what makes a successful high street business as a record number of chain stores across the country are closing.

According to recent figures released by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the first half of 2019 saw a record net 1,234 stores disappear from Britain’s top 500 high streets, with retailers and leisure operators continuing restructuring activity and services increasingly moving online.

PwC also recorded a total of 2,868 store closures, equivalent to 16 per day and the most for five years.

Kim Cassidy, Professor of Services Marketing, presented this stark reality to the students while setting the assignment brief and explained that the high street crisis had cost tens of thousands of jobs.

She said: “As these figures confirm, the high street is still facing huge problems in attracting footfall, so what better place to start with this year’s intake of business students.

“The growth of online shopping and the rise of a convenience culture has led to a large number of vacant units and declining visitor numbers in many town centres.
 
“Although Ormskirk is a relatively prosperous town in the UK, with a distinctive ‘market town’ profile, it has also felt the impact of some of these changes in consumer behaviour.
 
“I wanted to challenge the students to see if they could think outside the box and come up with any fresh ideas on how to tackle the problem, more specifically how to keep Ormskirk open for business.”

The teams were encouraged to move away from traditional retail and towards experiences, community attractions and activities, including health and wellbeing.

Sitting on the judging panel were business leaders: Kate Pierce, Principal Economic Regeneration Officer for West Lancashire Council; Greville Kelly, director at Groundwork Cheshire; retail consultant Vicki Powell; John Mercer, Associate Director of Edge Hill University’s Business School; Lynn Radcliffe, Cultural Commissioning Manager at Warrington Borough Council; and Dave Mutch, Chairman of Ormskirk Community Partnership.

The winning project was Ormesfest, which saw the fictional ‘Great Ormskirk Experience’ museum initiate a variety of festivals throughout the year to celebrate the town’s culture and history.

Kim added: “The task was designed in line with the Business School’s mission to develop highly-skilled and well-qualified graduates with outstanding business acumen, but I hope the students also enjoyed the exercise and getting to know their community in Ormskirk.”