Northenden community come together in project to make centre vital and viable

Thirty local people, ranging from residents and business owners, to community activists and local Councillors, convened at the Britannia Hotel last week to hear more about town and district centre change, and voice their opinions on what makes Northenden a great place to live, and the opportunities to make this even better.

Dr Steve Millington, from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, led a thought-provoking session that looked at the changing nature of town centres over recent years, with a specific focus on how retail trends have developed and what can be done to counter decline. Using research conducted as part of the High Street UK 2020 project, Dr Millington presented an overview of retail and shopping pattern changes and looked at some of the societal and structural shifts that have contributed to these such as online shopping, out-of-town retailing, an ageing population, and increasing car ownership.

However, despite these changes, the message was very much a positive one – retail is not dead, it’s changing. Furthermore, neighbourhood centres should not be viewed just in economic terms - as retail locations, but as centres for socialising, leisure, and for accessing services – in short, as places that fulfil the varied needs of the local population. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the workshop explored actions that can be taken to make Northenden an even better centre, and how local networks can support these actions.

Professor Dominic Medway, also from the Institute of Place Management, and co-facilitator of the workshop explained, “What is important is that people who want to make changes in locations like Northenden know what they can influence – and prioritise the actions that will have the most positive impact.”

Working in groups, attendees considered the actions that should be taken, and how actions can be taken by local people and groups. Feedback suggested that the centre possessed a good range of retail, excellent green spaces, and a good housing stock. In terms of areas for improvement, the centre’s visual appearance and parking/congestion were highlighted. The pervading feeling was that Northenden had all the attributes of a very successful centre, and that these qualities must be better exploited in order for the centre to fulfil its clear potential.

One of the attendees, Catherine O’Brien said, “Northenden centre needs improvement and will need local people to be involved to build on the many good things in the area and in the community.”




The workshop is part of a wider project which aims to develop a better understanding of how neighbourhood centres are currently performing, obtain local agreement for the improvements most likely to enhance vitality and viability, build more trust between stakeholders, and facilitate better partnership working. The workshop was seen as an important step in the right direction for Northenden.

Local Councillor Mary Monaghan was pleased with how the workshop went, “Northenden is a great place to live and work. We have to build on what we have and celebrate our wonderful community”

Following the workshops, a short written report will be circulated, which will include a clear set of recommendations from the IPM on priorities that could strengthen the function and performance of Northenden. A follow-up session will then be arranged with key representatives from Northenden to agree how these priorities can be put in to practice. 

When complete, it is expected that the work will have a measurable impact upon the success of not just Northenden, but all of Manchester's existing centres– with an overarching aim of ensuring that all neighbourhoods have a ‘liveable and lovable’ centre.


Manchester City Council’s (MCC’s) Economic Scrutiny Committee is currently overseeing the development of a long-term vision and strategy for neighbourhood centres across the city, in partnership with the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. The aim of the project is to develop vital and viable centres. These are centres that meet the needs of their local communities, in terms of shops and services whilst also providing a focus for local identity. Given structural changes in retail sector, there is also a need to make sure these centres are more resilient. The research behind the project is rigorous and based upon the latest academic and performance evidence (High Street UK 2020) and, crucially, is taking into account the views of local stakeholders.

Four ‘place management pilot’ centres from across the city have been selected for more detailed research, to inform the long-term vision and strategy.  These are Gorton, Northenden, Harpurhey and Chorlton. As part of the research being undertaken in each centre, a series of workshops are being held to gather the views and insight of local stakeholders. The first of these workshops was held in Northenden on Tuesday 6th March.

The Vital and Viable centres project builds on research conducted as part of the High Street UK2020 (HSUK2020) project. Started in January 2014, HSUK2020 was developed to bring evidence to 10 UK High Streets that would inform local decision making, and in turn improve vitality and viability. The 10 partner locations were Alsager, Altrincham, Ballymena, Barnsley, Bristol (St George), Congleton, Holmfirth, Market Rasen, Morley and Wrexham. By undertaking a systematic review of the literature and through adopting a more ‘engaged’ model of scholarship by involving multiple stakeholder groups, the project identified 201 factors that influence the performance of the UK High Street. This enabled us to classify the top 25 priorities for action that towns and centres should focus on.

To read more about HSUK2020, please visit /research-projects/

Research from the HSUK2020 project has been developed into six papers that have been published in a special open access issue of the Journal of Place Management & Development, published by Emerald Group Publishing. These papers can be accessed free of charge by visiting