Wayfinding: The thread that ties a town centre together

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“Levelling Up” might seem a nebulous and over politicised concept to some. However, we’ve seen a tangible change arising from it in recent years too. An increasing amount of public funding is being channelled into our nation’s regional towns, with wayfinding performing a crucial role in delivering all-important improvements to accessibility. And, as we look ahead to UKREiiF next month, improving accessibility and connectivity across our towns should be at the centre of discussions at the conference.

Here are our thoughts on how wayfinding is helping to deliver the wider agenda of driving the sustainable economic regeneration of our towns.

How our regional towns’ identity crisis unfolded

Changes in consumer habits, a lack of connectivity and an out-dated physical environment have hit our towns hard. If the advent of out-of-centre shopping wasn’t challenging enough for towns to compete with, the Internet has only compounded the issue.

Beyond retail, regional towns also typically lack the fundamental building blocks needed to build a strong and resilient economy. They invariably have an ageing population, fewer people going on to and returning from higher education and fewer economic opportunities.

All this is compounded by poor transport and connectivity. Our towns are built around an overreliance on cars yet are woefully unable to accommodate them.

With so many barriers facing towns, they struggle to draw commuters, consumers or visitors in.

Public funding for our public spaces

Addressing these challenges is the government’s flagship “Levelling Up” initiative, an umbrella term being used far and wide to describe a variety of interventions, legislative changes and, importantly, funding.

Emboldened by new public funding routes, towns are reasserting their role as crucial economic drivers and the government’s commitment to supporting them, in a bid to drive sustainable economic regeneration to deliver long term economic growth, is certainly welcome. Public funding opportunities include the Towns Fund, the Future High Streets Fund, UK Share Prosperity Fund, to name a few.

Connectivity is key

We’re working with landscape architects, masterplanners and others to support councils in delivering physical regeneration works, all with the focus of improving accessibility, prioritising pedestrians over vehicles and boosting active travel.

Crucial to a successful and vibrant town is ultimately making it easier for pedestrians to move across and around town centres.

Funding channels often seek physical improvements in the form of new or upgraded cycle and walking routes, pedestrianising streets and improving the sense of arrival at key transport hubs.

Yet while improving the physical infrastructure of a place is vital it’s not the full picture.

How does wayfinding help?

Wayfinding is a crucial part of improving movement across a town. By focusing on the end user’s experience we make sure the message is clear, telling them what’s on offer and how to get there.

A wayfinding strategy helps to:

  • identify and prioritise key destinations
  • remove barriers and improve physical accessibility
  • boost legibility and understanding of a place
  • make places more pedestrian friendly and safe
  • make places more walkable, convenient, healthy and affordable
  • create a more pleasant environment, encouraging longer stays and return visits

Getting a town’s wayfinding right from the outset is key to creating the right backdrop for achieving important social and economic goals like boosting local economic growth and supporting inward investment.

We work with landscape architects to ensure public realm schemes are intuitive, creating a strategy that coordinates with and reinforces the landscaping scheme.

The wayfinding acts like the thread that ties together other physical interventions, presenting them clearly and legibly to the end user. Without it, public realm enhancements risk functioning like isolated stepping stones, leaving pedestrians floundering and losing confidence.

Helping Todmorden become more active

We’re working in Todmorden, awarded a Town Deal, to improve walkability, as part of its “Active Todmorden” project. Working with Ridge, the project will create a new walking and cycling network and provide a legible pedestrian environment across the town centre and on key approaches to and from the railway station.

We’re looking at the town holistically from a wayfinding point of view, setting a strategy for the whole town, making the user experience from key arrival points a priority.

Embracing Earlestown’s story

We’re part of the team advising St Helen’s Borough Council after it secured public sector funding for a new town square, upgraded pedestrian routes and an improved streetscape environment.

Alongside a variety of other built environment experts, we’re working to improve the public realm infrastructure, part of which includes improving the wayfinding from the train and bus station arrivals to a new market square.

Our work here is focusing particularly on celebrating the identity and history of the town.

Strengthening Rugby’s cross connections

With Planit-IE, we are commissioned to look at how to strengthen connections from arrival points into Rugby’s town centre.

Part of Planit’s remit is to focus on 10 areas along the route, looking at street furniture in particular. So, we’ll be making sure that our wayfinding interventions align with this, through the careful choice of materials and style, to reinforce a cohesive look.

Reasserting Stretford Mall’s retail role

This exciting redevelopment project, now in full swing, is funded by the Future High Streets Fund.

Our work is all about re-establishing the mall as Stretford’s town centre, with associated works to reduce the over dominance of the road network and encourage people to access the shopping area on foot. Long term ambitions for the town centre are to extend this wayfinding approach to wider connections, including the nearby Victoria Park.

Get the buildings blocks right from the outset

The task of revitalising our regional towns is a multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive approach. But with more public funding options available for town regeneration projects, we have an opportunity to get the building blocks right from the outset.

Ensuring easy access to and across our town centres through wayfinding interventions is a crucial piece of the puzzle in making a tangible difference and “levelling up” our regional towns.

That’s because wayfinding places the end user at the heart of plans, focusing on their experience and how to improve it.

After all, as we all know, people vote with their feet.

So, let’s make sure they choose to walk a little further and stay a little longer.

We’d love to work with you to make the most of your town centre redevelopment opportunity. Get in touch to discuss it more, at 0161 241 3174

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