Community is at the heart of all Stockland retail town centres. We strive to ensure that our considered spaces resonate with the needs of local communities as part of our approach to create a thriving environment for our retailers and customers. In her national role, Stockland Retail General Manager, Michelle Abbey, shed some light on how a community-first focus sets Stockland centres apart.
More than a shopping destination
Going beyond the traditional expectation of what a shopping centre should deliver is critical to truly catering to the needs of the local area. “When you think about where retail assets are going, it’s almost ‘back to the future’ in terms of creating and fostering community,” said Ms Abbey. “That is the true talent of our town centre models.
“We have been considering how to repurpose space to accommodate different functions at our retail assets. It's really about providing a multifunctional space with diverse offerings.
“When we think about that community perspective, it’s about how we engage with social sustainability. We are always thinking about opportunities where we can be amenable to the community, to create an authentic focal point where more than one’s shopping needs can be fulfilled.
Curated community spaces
Ms Abbey said the opportunities for Stockland to carefully curate its retail assets is an important ongoing consideration: “It’s something that has evolved over time and something that we continually refine.
“There has been a diversification in the retail mix to include more services such as educational opportunities. We are aggregating health and wellbeing precincts and also the entertainment value offer, in which we are also seeing a large increase.
“It's really about re-evaluating how you configure community spaces on a local level to promote a sense of connection, making provisions for our spaces to accommodate more. So, we put various layers in place that allow customers to have opportunities to connect more closely together, encouraging grassroots community activity.
Tangible community reach
Ms Abbey adds some great recent examples where we have added “unique services to broaden the community offering”. Gidget House is now in two Stockland centres, offering pre- and post-pregnancy support services to expectant and new parents. The free psychological counselling services are available for perinatal depression and anxiety, providing compassionate holistic care. Representing a truly meaningful collaboration, the new services offer the community valuable and accessible support from the convenience of their local neighbourhood centres.
Similarly, we have created centre assets that help people with sensory limitations. BindiMaps, now available at five Stockland centres, assists vision-impaired customers navigate through our centres using a network of Bluetooth beacons communicating to their smart phones. The innovative wayfinding system opens up a whole new world of discovery for customers with a vision impairment, bridging the gap between a large indoor public space and the barriers to going there in the first place.
“These are the kinds of opportunities that make people feel connected and comfortable; a holistic approach to engage communities.” said Ms Abbey.
Our inclusive and accessible play-spaces support children and families of all abilities, while we maintain a discreet safe-room at Stockland Shellharbour to care for women attempting to escape domestic violence. At Stockland Wetherill Park, a multi-faith prayer room was allocated for people of different religious beliefs to utilise for contemplation or prayer.
More broadly, Stockland plays a central role in supporting local groups and initiatives. “We have been able to connect with communities more holistically and find authentic ways to engage with them,” said Ms Abbey. Our CARE Grants program each year lends a hand to hundreds of local community groups, with close to $2 million distributed since its inception seven years ago.
“We have also been working with the community to place locals in employment roles within our town centres. So, it’s not only about local customers wanting to be in our centres, but our amazing offerings also entice people to work here, too.
“Likewise, we are seeing that with people working from home, they are reconnecting with their local businesses, finding things that they otherwise would not have sought-out, they're finding goods and services closer to home which supports the local economy.
“Our town centre approach really suits this trend for centralised local communities that shop local in order to express that identification. Things post-COVID-19 are hyper-local. COVID-19 really grew that community solidarity, which we call social sustainability.” And our neighbourhood centres are there to support.
From little things, big things grow
Another example of social interaction and support that Stockland is proud to highlight is a community space at Harrisdale in Western Australia where we were thrilled to celebrate the opening of The Patch, our new outdoor community space designed for families to meet and play. It’s a beautifully tranquil shared space for families to learn and have fun, using primary tools such as mud kitchens and sandpits, cubby houses, chalk boards and colourful flowers.
“The Patch space came about in response to community feedback suggesting the need for a fun outdoor environment where parents could connect, while their children play, learn and interact.
Asked to summarise Stockland’s town centre ethos, Ms Abbey concluded, “Our purpose at Stockland is really about creating better lives by connecting people and places together, and creating a hub for our retailers, their customers and our internal teams. And do everything authentically, with the local community in mind.”