How a council did the quick-step to keep its town centre swinging

Picture shows (From left): Beeston Councillor Greg Marshall, Broxtowe Borough Council Deputy CEO Zulf Darr, and Daniel Ellis, CEO of Fletchergate Industries

A flagship venue launched by one of Nottingham’s most successful club entrepreneurs has helped a council revitalise a town centre with a £50m regeneration project.

Beeston Social is the first venue launched outside a city by Fletchergate Industries, hosting everything from afternoon salsa classes to late-night live music and comedy.

“I’m no dancer, but I think we’ve been pretty quick on our feet with Beeston Square!” says Zulf Darr, deputy chief executive of Broxtowe Borough Council.

“Given all the financial challenges local government has experienced, and the tough times the economy’s had, it would have been so easy for us to be less ambitious.

“But our elected members decided we just weren’t going to do that. This is a busy town full of good people, it’s well connected and a stone’s throw from some major employers. We knew there had to be a way to reinvent Beeston Square.”

Beeston Square is more than a story about the shape of town centre development in an era when the prevailing narrative has been dominated by stories of decline.

It’s also a tale of how a local authority measured some significant risks, recognised the need for commercial insight and flexibility, but stayed focused on ensuring that a large project achieved its financial and economic objectives – and, most of all, worked for its community.

On paper, Beeston is a dormitory town which sits next door to a city – a place people live in rather than a destination in itself. Not, perhaps, a prime opportunity for a £50m landmark development with a cineplex as its anchor tenant and a range of fashionable bars and cafes.

So how did a borough council persuade a commercially astute venue operator used to serving affluent city audiences to break with tradition and tailor a new concept to a town?

“It was a bit of a leap of faith for us,” says Daniel Ellis, the former DJ who is now CEO of Fletchergate Industries, which created Beeston Social. “But the more we looked at the location and the demographic, the more we realised that the council might have a really interesting opportunity on its hands.

“We’ve got a portfolio of different venues, and we base the individual concepts on trends we see emerging in London and in the USA, which we visit regularly. We’re then running ahead of those trends at regional level, and we curate the concept according to the building, its surroundings and the demographic.

“Beeston has got really good transport links with Nottingham, including the tram network, so it would be easy for people to go into the city. But they don’t need to – we’ve given a sizeable population a great venue on their doorstep, whether they’re looking for food, drink, live music and comedy, and a really high-quality night time experience, or a place to come together and do group activities. That’s why we called it Beeston Social.

“We’ve turned the question on its head now: it’s not about whether people from Beeston will go into Nottingham, but people in Nottingham hopping on a tram to Beeston. It’s an all-day offering that really works well locally, but you can also come here to have a great live experience and dance until late.”

The arrival of an eye-catching destination venue in Beeston Square is a reflection of the scale of Browtowe Borough Council’s stretching ambitions for the project. It wasn’t just the council’s desire to breathe new life into the town centre that drove this ambition, but a public consultation that told them the community wanted something that was literally on a cinematic scale.

“Our starting point was how we could make a large-scale opportunity deliver a lasting impact,” Zulf Darr continues. “So we had to build an intimate understanding of what people wanted, and that came from some clear commercial masterplanning insights provided by our team and our property partners, and from a dialogue with the public.”

The public consultation put a cinema at the top of the hit-list. Surprising as this sounds in an era of downloads and streaming, Broxtowe’s modelling told it that risk and potential could balance out. The result was a deal to bring in Irish cinema operator The Arc – whose Beeston Square operation was launched by film director Shane Meadows, himself a Beeston native.

The way the Beeston Square movie has unfolded so far has had thrilling and challenging moments: the slow-burn of planning, the project interrupted by the pandemic, then the crescendo of excitement as it became apparent that ambition was going to be achieved, with a cinema, bars and cafes signing on the dotted line, and plans developing for a residential development alongside that will deliver even more town centre footfall. More openings are now in the pipeline.

“We are ambitious for all of our town centres,” says Zulf Darr. “It involves being interventionist and in taking managed risks, with robust governance frameworks. It also involves clearly demonstrating to government that town centre investments can deliver economic and social returns provided you do your due diligence, you build a solid commercial case, and you challenge all partners to be ambitious and be part of the journey.”