New consultancy aims to revive stagnating towns

Reimagine Place team: Emma Forbes. Matt Baker, Laura Bell and Hayden Ferriby

A new placemaking consultancy which will advise councils on planning, commercial development, place marketing and high street innovation has been set up by author Matt Baker and three associates.

The founders of Manchester-based Reimagine Place have experience of revitalising market halls and high streets, but say they have set up the business as they are frustrated at the slow pace of the government’s levelling up agenda.

“What we’ve found is that levelling up is moving at snail’s pace, projects are stalling and, in many towns, communities are understandably frustrated,” said director Matt Baker, who co-authored the 2013 Grimsey Review into UK high streets with former Iceland chief executive Bill Grimsey.

That review called for immediate action on declining town centres and high streets saying “the future of our economy depends on thriving, vibrant micro economies across the nation and reform is required now.”

The business also sees an opportunity as local councils slash capacity to drive projects effectively due to cut backs.

Co-founder Emma Forbes said: “We are helping councils pick up the pace with plans, getting communities involved and supporting towns in adapting to a post-pandemic landscape that’s changed dramatically.” 

Forbes, along with Hayden Ferriby and Laura Bell, teamed up with Baker on different projects since the Grimsey Review.

Ferriby said too many of Britain’s towns are “stagnating and struggling to realise their potential.”. 

He added: “We want to see an urban and rural renaissance in places everywhere and this requires a step change in the speed of delivery. We need smarter decision making and localism on steroids to ensure people feel part of the change instead of change being done to them.

“We all have experience of delivering change and helping high streets modernise, but by combining our expertise and working with other partners on larger projects, we expect to make a bigger difference and be more ambitious for our towns.” 

Reimagine Place are already working on a number of national projects and are looking to support asset managers, councils, developers and architects on schemes ranging from new towns to helping develop new anchors.

Some of their work includes long-term place development plans, repurposing buildings and securing funding for community infrastructure, market and night-time economy strategies, economic impact assessments, community engagement, community-led development and meanwhile use strategies.