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Managing a Hat-Trick Global Challenges

2nd September 2021

This year picked up where the last left off, in the middle of a public health crisis which has brought with it, untold economic damage to our high streets and town centres.

From Alpha to Delta
The impact of the Alpha variant has been devastating, necessitating a mid-winter lockdown, but not before daily infection and death rates would exceed the peaks of Spring 2020.

If that was not bad enough, worse was to come. A new variant of concern, now known as Delta, which is more aggressive, more transmissible and more vaccine resistant than Alpha, now dominates the public health landscape.

Unquestionably, the deadly characteristics of Delta delayed the desperately sought reopening of high streets across the UK and Ireland. However, as confidence has grown around the high levels of protection for those fully vaccinated, it looks clear now that this is a delay only, and that a gradual reopening, already complete in some territories, ongoing in others, will march on.

From a Global Pandemic to Global Trade
There is no doubt that the pandemic has hit trade hard, impacting the supply of goods to high streets. However, it is an issue that has been complicated further by changes in our trading relationship with the EU.

Brexit and the trading relationship of between businesses in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the UK and wider world, continue to be challenging. Problems such as the disruption to the seamless flow of goods and access to a European workforce have caused turbulence in some sectors, including some which trade in town centre locations.

ATCM has worked with the UK Government to share information where possible to support business adaptation including updates on changes to regulations and notifications of grants to support adaptation for small businesses.

While COVID-19 and Brexit have been the defining issues so far during 2021 and have not gone away, the second half of the year looks set to be dominated by a third issue with global ramifications.

The Climate Crisis
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recently published report on the latest science behind global warming is bleak. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as a "code red for humanity".

The 2021 IPCC report on climate change can be downloaded here.

There is an indication that scientists have been too conservative in their predictions on the pace of climate change as recent weather events and advances in climate modelling provide the clearest picture yet on the dangers ahead.

What is also clearer now is that both the contribution to climate change from towns and cities, and their exposure to extreme weather events means the levels of disruption we could see over the next few years might be even more significant than the pandemic for those areas with high climate vulnerability. 

ATCM has already started work internally to understand the best way our services for members should be shaped to ensure urban practitioners have the knowledge and tools they need to make local climate action a key part of their effort. With COP26 hosted in the UK this year, the foundation is there for a comprehensive focus on climate action as a foundation of urban regeneration.

These three issues are at the core of ATCM's focus for 2021 and have shaped the support we have offered members. Here is a breakdown of just some of the things we have done so far in 2021.

Knowledge Exchange

In the seven months from January to July, ATCM hosted nearly 30 meetings of High Street Conversations, national network meetings and the Cities Group on a range of topics including COVID-19 restrictions, public health issues, understanding the impact of Brexit, visitor economy, growth of the logistics industry in town centres, repurposing property and urban gang violence.

Contributors to these events included:

  • British Property Federation

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (UK Government)

  • CBRE Ireland

  • Welsh Government

  • Visit Kent

  • Flip Out/Boom Battle Bars

  • Guild of Fine Food

  • Revo

  • Retail Gazette

  • Architecture 00

  • Stagecoach

  • The Light Cinema

  • Lambert Smith Hampton

  • Fenwick Department Store


The APPG for Town Centres met to discuss 'the Pandemic and the Streetscape' on the 19th July exploring the use of outdoor space for business continunity.

ATCM is supporting the UK Government on COP26 and is working with the International Downtown Association to translate the priorities of the UN and national governments into local climate action for towns and cities.

ATCM continues to worth with policymakers at all levels across the UK and Ireland to support the industry.
We have:

  • Participated in high level UK Government meetings on climate change, including a briefing with the Prime Minister’s Climate Change Spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, and the Director of Partnerships and Engagement to COP26, Matt Toombs.

  • Participated in meetings with senior civil servants across the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on preparations for COP26.

  • Supported the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in the capital’s reopening through engagement on the London COVID Business Forum.

  • Worked with APPG for Town Centres allowing MPs across different parties to discuss high street related policies during the pandemic. The APPG has written to the Treasury on business rates and the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government on permitted development.

  • Worked with our Advisory Council, Board of Directors, Attis Towns and liaised with the British Property Federation to develop options for the evolution of property-led management for urban centres post-COVID.

  • Worked with senior civil servants in the Department for Business on the dissemination of key information on Brexit to support businesses in the transition.

  • Continued to lobby for business rates reform in England as the Treasury considers reform.

  • Responded to the CLG Committee’s inquiry on the impact of the pandemic on the high street.

  • Been pivotal in a comprehensive response to permitted development in England participating in a CLG Committee inquiry, coordinating a joint industry letter and meeting with influential backbench MPs to put pressure on MHCLG to change course.


The pandemic has meant disruption to both Purple Flag and the Town and City Management Industry Awards. However, ATCM has not stood still in terms of standards.

We have:

  • Started a process of refining Purple Flag standards to encompass COVIOD-secure principles in town centres after dark.

  • Consulted with the Purple Flag Panel and Purple Flag destinations for the return of the accreditation as restrictions are gradually lifted.

  • Hosted four Purple Flag Forum meetings on the challenges of the pandemic on the night time industry featuring organisations such as Night Time Industries Association, the British Beer and Pub Association, Knightwood Leisure, Best Bar None, the Restaurant Collective and many others.

  • Restructured the Purple Flag team as part of the plans to evolve and growth the accreditation.

  • Engaged with key contacts in the night time sector in Sydney to begin a collaboration on shared standards in management in urban centres after dark.

Added Value

While the pandemic has kept us apart, ATCM continues to strive to work as closely as possible with a range of partners on making the day-to-day rigours of place management easier for our members.

We have:

  • Renewed our partnership with the Violence and Vulnerability Unit and the Home Office, successfully applying for the next tranche of funding to help towns and cities across the UK tackle urban gang violence.

  • Continued to demonstrate how free services provided by Google have become essential for many small businesses throughout the pandemic including Google My Business, Maps and YouTube.

  • Worked with Visa to promote changes in Strong Customer Authentication measures and promoted research around the popularity of independent high street retailers from customers to raise awareness of the desire to shop locally post-pandemic.

  • Promoted the Digital Boost campaign providing free mentoring, workshops, courses, and content for small businesses who have needed to adapt during the pandemic.

  • Continued to support the High Streets Task Force with case studies and through co-chairing the Sector Leaders group, bringing together trade association representing the key stakeholders of the town centre economy including retail, property and local government.

Looking Forward to What Remains of 2021

In one sense, ATCM will continue where we left off when we return from our Summer break, with high quality events to ensure our members remain at the cutting edge of industry developments. With this in mind, we welcome back High Street Conversations on the 9th September and put climate change front and centre of the debate with 'Race to Zero'. Bookings are open to members now, with registration details available on Basecamp.

However, some things are changing over the coming months as we continue to adapt to provide our members with the very best level of service possible. 

With schools returning, all of our virtual events will now begin at 10am (unless otherwise stated) to accommodate those with young families. This includes High Street Conversations.

While The Purple Flag Forum and national network events for Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will remain, we are now adding ATCM England events to the list. This will give us the opportunity to explore a common position on issues such as permitted development rights and business rates reform.

With public health still a concern, all of ATCM's events will be virtual until the end of 2021. However, we are considering a transition to a hybrid events programme next year with planning already underway for Summer School and a Purple Flag Awards ceremony.

Collaboration in Difficult Times
ATCM continues to work extremely hard on behalf of members to provide the leadership, support and knowledge required as our industry grapples with some of the most challenging and complex issues we have ever experienced. But it is not just the ATCM alone on this difficult journey. Everyone from our Board of Directors, Advisory Council, members and partners have been generous in giving up their time to share best practice and make the network the valuable resource that it currently is. 
For those who want to be part of this important network and be at the cutting edge of the UK and Ireland urban place management industry the click on the button below to find out more about ATCM.

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