Branded for life – or not?

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The high street used to be the heartbeat of a town – bustling, vibrant, a one-stop place for all your consumer needs. My deliberate use of the past tense is neither original nor surprising. A report out this week by the Local Data Company has said as much, showing the worrying shop vacancy figures of more than 1,000 retail centres.

Tucked within the negative spread was Stockport – a town that has the highest vacancy rate of the ‘larger town centres’ at 27.7 per cent. If you’ve been to Stockport recently, apart from on Monday when ‘apparently’ there were 4,000 people there to mark the opening of Primark, then these figures probably ring true.

As I sat this morning listening to a passionate debate on the economic future of the town, it became clear that these figures have riled the powers that be – ‘it’s more like 20 per cent’, according to the Council’s chief executive. While I admired the Council leader’s staunch defence of his clearly beloved home town, and a ‘hold my hands up’ honesty that things need to be improved, there was one remark that rather stood out. When asked about whether the Council had any plans to look at branding the town, he simply passed it off by saying that branding would only make other people think that they loved themselves. I won’t question the pride that was in the room – at one point the panelists were vying for the title of who was born at Stepping Hill Hospital first – but surely that’s the point?

I’m not saying that the Council should waste thousands of pounds on flash campaigns, but the visual identity of a town, company, sports club – you name it – helps to define what it is. As Stockport enters a new era in a bid to reinvigorate the once thriving market town, I can’t help but feel that a little bit of dazzle and colour would go a long way to supporting the regeneration efforts that are clearly being made. What’s more, if the rebranding of Stockport involved residents, schools and the business community then surely it would cast a positive shine on a town that’s desperate to get that heart beating again.