At a recent comedy night at the Swansea Grand Theatre, a Canadian comic spoke about his surprise that walking around the city at 6:30pm, he found everything closed and the streets deserted. He wondered if he’d stumbled into a zombie apocalypse.
Perhaps that’s a little unfair as the night-time economy has been a focus for local and Welsh Government for some time. In fact, in 2015, Swansea was the first Welsh city to be awarded the Purple Flag - a major award recognising its safe and vibrant night-time economy.
Yet many of us will recognise that compared to other cities, there are few people who linger in the city centre ‘after work’. Creating a post-6pm economy matters as the most recent statistics revealed it generates £66bn for the economy; however, a closer look reveals that over a third of that is concentrated in London.
If Swansea is to enjoy the benefits that the ‘alive after five’ economy brings, we can learn from the approaches that other cities take. A baseline assessment of current provision, followed by an assessment of needs, including surveying those who chose not to spend time in the city in the evening, helps determine what needs to be addressed.
What are the constraints? Diversity of what is on offer, cost, transportation, safety? Safety has certainly improved through initiatives including city centre rangers and taxi marshals. Diversity is also emerging on the High Street in Swansea, with the efforts Coastal Housing has put into regeneration paying dividends - national chains as well as independent leisure start-ups are appearing.
But to achieve a lasting and viable transformation, the talents of all the agents of change need to work in partnership.
That means public authorities, investors, leisure operators, transport providers and resident groups. Then, all the levers of control need to be brought into play – planning, regeneration, licensing and policing, so a shared vision can be realised.
Make no mistake that a clear focus on creating the infrastructure that will attract private investors and commercial tenants is essential. Without it, the ability to purchase leisure services on-line, the growing appeal of drinking at home and patchy transportation will lead to even fewer night-time visitors.
It is a shame the Canadian comic left the city believing we have little to offer after office hours but it is up to us to change that perception and reap the benefits of a night-time economy.