Bell Court and Stratford Bouncing Back

The owner of Bell Court in Stratford-upon-Avon believes the town centre is well positioned to bounce back from the pandemic and changing retail patterns.

John Stacey, managing director of Blue Coast Capital which has owned the courtyard development since 2014 and invested around £30 million into the scheme, has reported increases of 20-30 per cent in footfall on pre-Covid levels with many of the units reporting improved trading.

Stacey sits on the Stratford Town Centre Strategic Partnership which is looking at major improvements to the town – including how to help drive the retail economy.

He believes that the partnership, the make-up of the town centre and the strength of the Shakespeare brand could help the heart of Stratford weather the current economic storm better than many other similar-sized towns.

The partnership is currently looking at how the problem of void retail units can be solved and is planning to meet town centre freeholders in the coming months.

Stacey, whose firm has property interests across the UK, wider Europe and the US, believes there are several indicators which show Stratford is faring better than many.

He said: “At the last partnership meeting, Stratford’s mayor Cllr Kevin Taylor reported that 23 units had been filled since the pandemic with the vast majority of those being independents and that has to be good news.

“Bell Court tenants have reported strong trading levels and we anticipate that will continue as customers become more confident and as visitors continue to return.

“The majority of Stratford town centre units are small and therefore suitable for independent or niche businesses, which we would expect to drive demand in the next few years.  The draw of Shakespeare means the town has a very strong identity which will be the case long after we are over this challenging period.

“We work up and down the country and I think the Town Centre Strategic Partnership is a really positive initiative. It is transparent, a very wide range of stakeholders are represented and everyone is there because they want to improve the town in the best way possible.

“The fact that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet is a massive plus and that will help the town move quicker than those who do not have a similar body.”

Blue Coast Capital recently announced it is seeking planning to introduce a 148-bed Motto by Hilton Hotel into the former Debenhams unit following the closure of the department store in early 2020.

John added: “There has to be flexibility around the repurposing of vacant retail units, particularly larger units, to facilitate regeneration.  Our view is that the introduction of a wider range of complementary uses into the town centre, alongside public realm improvements, will only help to broaden the overall offer of the town.

“There has been a major shift in shopping patterns across the UK and this has created a supply and demand imbalance for retail properties.

“A variety of alternative uses need to be considered, including residential, cultural, educational, leisure and offices amongst others, to ensure the town centres are able to offer the services and experiences that are required to continue to attract shoppers and visitors alike.

“Every town centre is suffering similar problems through the structural changes affecting retail patterns and this has just been accelerated by the impact of Covid.  The Partnership will prove vital in helping Stratford adapt and evolve to overcome these issues.”