Waveney Business Forum Research Project Aims to Boost Waveney Towns

Introduction and context

Town centres are faced with a number of factors which have stimulated considerable and perhaps unprecedented change: such as the increasing influence of supermarkets, Internet shopping and increasing transport costs. Market towns in rural Suffolk, and Lowestoft town centre and its surrounding district and local centres, are hard-hit by such issues, as well as having their own unique set of difficulties to deal with.

The Waveney area is characterised by a distinct set of retail geographies. Most of Waveney is composed of a network of market towns which serve a largely ‘rural’ hinterland as well as the town populations themselves, and there is a complex movement of shoppers between the market towns. In contrast, the Lowestoft area has a markedly bigger population and is the principle town centre in Waveney, serving a large urban population as well as more ‘rural’ areas and a tourist market. Lowestoft is also circled by a number of district and local centres. Waveney additionally contains more tourist-focused towns and retail centres towards the coast, including Southwold and Kessingland.

The research project – the Waveney Town Centre Study

Waveney Business Forum (WBF) has commissioned a research project into the ‘retail performance’ of Waveney towns and what may improve their economic performance – the Waveney Town Centre Study. This is in the context of such concerns about the future prospects of our high streets and town centres which has recently had considerable media attention. The Waveney Town Centre Study was recently featured in the EDP and Beccles and Bungay Journal:

http://www.edp24.co.uk/home/research_study_aims_to_boost_beccles_bungay_halesworth_and_lowestoft_1_1352916

The project is ‘hot on the heels’ of Portas Pilot Town bids from Halesworth and Lowestoft, and aims to incorporate ideas from the considerable efforts and local backing of the bids. Indeed, the project is gathering important data which can later help ‘test’ the effectiveness of some of the proposed changes with shoppers. The study aims to be sensitive to the diverse retail geographies of Waveney noted above. Dr Rebecca Ellis, principle research consultant of Digital Era Research, is leading the project.

Digital Era Research is using its experience of user-centred projects to construct bespoke questionnaires which address very local issues and concerns. Briefly, the research design involves two stages of primary data gathering.

1. Business stakeholder meetings and questionnaires

The first stage involves face-to-face meetings with local business groups in the various Waveney towns to understand the key factors that they think may impact on the retail performance of the town centres, and the main changes which could be made to boost the retail performance of Waveney towns.

The meetings consisted of a brief presentation followed by a large structured focus group.

Notes from all the meetings were written up, and can be found here:

These meetings have also helped to construct paper and online questionnaires aimed at the business community, and in particular town centre traders, to gather information from a wider business community. The views and knowledge of local business has then been taken forward to ‘ground’ the next stage of the project in terms of ‘testing’ the key issues raised – a survey of Waveney shoppers.

2. Waveney shopper survey

The second stage of the project is a large ‘shopper survey’ which will again be in both paper and online form. Paper and online surveys will be distributed to potential Waveney shoppers through a variety of distribution channels. The survey is important as it can ask shopper views about key issues and desired changes highlighted by the business community. It also aims to capture invaluable information about consumer behaviour amongst Waveney shoppers, such as their supermarket shopping habits, Internet shopping and how and why town centre shopping practices may have changed over time.

The Waveney Town Centre Shopper Survey is out for online completion. There is a choice of completing an online survey, completing a modifiable PDF and e-mailing it back or printing the paper version of the PDF and handing it in to shops acting as a drop off point. The paper survey has also been out in local shops for five to six weeks (as at 10th September 2012). You can find out the participating local shops giving out paper surveys by clicking here. The deadline was extended by popular demand to Saturday 22nd September 2012 for paper surveys, but submission of paper surveys has now closed. The online surveys will stay open until we have finished data processing – 22nd October 2012. The survey has now closed.

Volunteering and community research

The project is collaborate and community-based in nature, and is relying very heavily on the local business community to help gather data, under the guidance of the principle research consultant. For example, footfall data is being systematically gathered over many Waveney towns by volunteers as part of the project, and it is hoped that this will be an on-going activity to help provide baseline data and evidence of change. The project still needs volunteers for many of its activities.

Contact Digital Era Research

A report will be available at the end of the project. If you have any questions about the survey or would like to be a volunteer, please contact Dr Rebecca Ellis, Principle Research Consultant at Digital Era Research, on the following e-mail address: rellis@digitaleraresearch.co.uk. For telephone enquiries please contact 01953 246123.

Progress reports

April/ May 2012. Business stakeholder meetings have been held during April in Bungay, Beccles and Halesworth. These helped form business stakeholder questionnaires (see above), which were distributed in paper and online form to local businesses in those three towns in May. Results of the questionnaires have been collected and are now being processed.

June 2012. The draft shopper survey has been produced to mirror some elements of the business stakeholder survey. Results from the business stakeholder survey are being used to help construct the final shopper survey.

July 2012. The Kirkley and Lowestoft Stakeholder meeting took place on 11th July. The shopper survey has been released in online form and is currently in print production (‘in press’). Street interviewing will take place in July and August.

August 2012: The shopper survey is now live online or in printed format available in local shops. We have been out and about in Beccles, Bungay, Halesworth, Kirkley and Lowestoft North End/ Town Centre talking to people and giving out flyers and surveys.

September 2012: The deadline was extended by popular demand to Saturday 22nd September 2012 for paper surveys, but is now closed. The online surveys will stay open until we have finished data processing – 22nd October 2012. The survey has now closed.

October 2012: Data processing has finished in the w/c 22nd October. Dr Ellis has been working on footfall data, and will be working on the shopper survey data set from now on.

January 2013: Data analysis of the shopper survey is currently being carried out, and analysis of the business stakeholder surveys is completed. The final sample size for the Waveney shopper survey is 644, with a good representation of responses from across the Waveney towns.

May 2013:  The final report is expected to be presented to the WBF full board and committee in May 2013.