Alive after Five initiative boosts footfall and sales
Since being launched in late October, late-night shopping in Newcastle city centre has been an enormous success and allowed shoppers to get a head start on their festive shopping. Christopher Knox reports on Business Improvement District company NE1, its Alive after Five initiative, and how Durham may adopt a similar model.
OVER a month after the launch of late night shopping in Newcastle city centre, statistics show that the city has been significantly outperforming other major UK city shopping centres in terms of overall footfall.
Between the launch on October 25 and November 21, footfall figures in the city centre were up 14.6% compared to the same four-week period in 2009, with an additional 180,681 visitors hitting the shops.
During the launch week, which ran until November 1, footfall was up by a massive 36.3% compared to the previous week, and exceeded the national average of 19.8%.
The snowy weather may have dampened the desire among people to shop last week, but it’s fair to say that the figures indicate that shoppers have responded positively to the extended opening times, which sees most of the town centre’s biggest stores open for business until 8pm on weekdays and 7pm on Saturdays.
Business Improvement District (BID) company NE1 Ltd, which masterminded the “Alive after Five” launch, welcomed the positive results and has expressed cautious optimism that the footfall seen in the first few weeks of the initiative is set to continue. The figures, collated by Springboard, the national provider of customer and high street statistics, show that the percentage increase grew steadily week on week during the first four weeks, rising to 22.59% in the week commencing November 15, compared to the same week in 2009.
It is the biggest change to retail opening hours since Sunday trading, with NE1 Ltd coordinating the change by working with the council, public transport operators and the police to ensure that all the elements are there to support its success.
The council has been fully supportive of the initiative and is offering free car parking in all eight council-owned multi-storey car parks in the city – amounting to more than 2,000 free parking spaces after 5pm.
The results for car parking in the first weeks of Alive after Five show an average increase for all council multi-storey car parks of 40.9% after 5pm compared with the same period last year, representing an additional 18,962 occupied spaces.
Eldon Garden car park has recorded the highest increase with an 85.7% hike, closely followed by Eldon Square, with a 72% rise.
Stephen Patterson, commercial manager at NE1 Ltd, said: “Alive after Five has got off to a flying start. The launch went extremely well and created the right kind of buzz, with people fired up and enthusiastic about later retail opening hours and added vibrancy on the city streets.
“In the current economic climate it is excellent to see Newcastle performing so well. Newcastle is more than just a shopping centre and has all of the attractions you would expect of a major European capital such as world-class cultural venues, fantastic restaurants, a vibrant night life and, of course, a strong retail sector.”
NE1, which was launched in April last year, is run by a 13-member board which includes some of the city’s most respected business figures, including Bob Senior, managing director of pub and restaurant operator Utopian Leisure and Barry Blamire, managing director of John Lewis Newcastle.
It was the 90th BID in the UK and one of the most ambitious, with the centre containing more businesses per square mile than any other improvement district – more than 3,300 in all.
The business improvement district concept was introduced in Kingston-upon -Thames in 2004 and is a public-private partnership in which businesses in a defined area elect to pay an additional tax in order to fund improvements to their trading environment.
Firms in Newcastle are levied each year based on their rateable value, for which NE1 carries out a series of practical measures designed to enhance the city centre and encourage more visitors to the area.
Anecdotal results from retailers concerning late night openings have been extremely positive, with some stores reporting significant increases in both footfall and sales in the first few weeks of the late openings, even allowing for the increases that would be expected in the run-up to Christmas.
Mr Blamire said: “We’ve had a very positive reaction to the increased trading hours and our customers really appreciate the free parking. The extra hours in the evening have encouraged more couples to shop together for larger items for the home and makes Christmas shopping more convenient for our customers.
“We expect evening trade to strengthen further as we get closer to Christmas.”