Delegates from across the country were in Manchester on Thursday 26th July to hear the findings of the Bringing Big Data to Small Users project and to discover what signature their town has. Town and city representatives were handed golden envelopes which identified their location as Comparison, Speciality, Holiday, or Multifunctional.

The conference was opened by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, who gave a passionate talk about the importance of town centres to communities. He felt they were places rather than just retail locations and this was important as we looked to the future. He believed the "highly relevant work" of the project would help towns.

The conference then heard about the project and its results. The town types are one of the outcomes of the two year research and development study led by Springboard but with 16 other partners, including the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. The conference also heard about another outcome, a new tool that brings together data on town and city centres and which provides live insight to and context for their performance. The dashboard-based tool is now on trial and will be further developed over the next six months by the Institute of Place Management.

The Bringing Big Data to Small Users project was co-funded by Innovate, the UK's innovation agency, and built on work undertaken during an earlier ESRC supported project called High Street UK 2020. During the course of the projects, researchers at Cardiff University and Manchester Metropolitan University have been able to analyse more than ten years of data gathered hourly in Britain's high streets by retail intelligence specialists Springboard. The data, now available for some 150 locations, monitors footfall (pedestrian flow) and so presents a real picture of how each centre is used. Analysis of this data found that patterns across the year vary across towns. By no means are all centres the same. Indeed clustering analysis found four types of centre. How town and city centres are actually used has significance for what is the most appropriate strategy to secure their sustainability. The Manchester conference not only told those attending what type of place they had, but also used workshop sessions to explore what that might mean for the town going forward.

The signatures are part of the information that towns need to make evidence-based decisions. As high streets face challenges, it becomes ever more important to make effective decisions and ones that will really benefit a place. The new dashboard-based tool now under development will be refined and tested over the next six months, working with a number of locations, in order to develop an effective and partner-friendly tool for UK town and city centres.

If you would like to find out more about the new tool, please email ipm@mmu.ac.uk