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The Community Learning Centre
Ben Somner
6th February 2023

The changing face of the mall

The retail sector has responded vociferously to the creeping threat of the internet with a multi-channel explosion – e-commerce sites, marketplaces, comparison shopping engines and social marketing.

The changing face of the mall has seen retailers and operators embrace a wide range of new models to capture the mood of the modern shopper with pop ups, showrooming and personalised experiences driven by smart data and analytics.

The retail first model is slowly being replaced by an “experience first” approach, but this is a journey that has no fixed destination and the next stop along the line is a model that responds to that most basic of human instincts – community.

Education in a multi-use environment

For all the advances in technology, the need and desire for physical interaction remains the same – something that has been so clearly reinforced by our inability to engage in it during a pandemic.

Customer trends are telling us that the big box mall still has a place in our urban centres but the opportunity is growing to create a different mix where retail supplements rather than dominates.

A diversity of activity is not just encouraged but is becoming increasingly essential with the mall becoming a community hub and a cultural hotspot, a place where you can access services, post a letter, or have your hair cut, as well as visit a gallery, collaborate with your peers, or learn a new skill.

In a number of markets, particularly in Asia and the Far East, we are seeing an ever-increasing proportion of leasable area going to education tenants, providing ‘enrichment’ and after school care.

In Singapore for instance there is a prevalence of holistic enrichment for kids aged 6-12 – an educational approach with a focus on physical and mental well-being that looks beyond the curriculum being taught in traditional schools.

Post Covid, people’s need for community and a desire for local and accessible services will undoubtedly have increased significantly. As traditional retail anchor tenants used to drive footfall, so these new community functions become the anchors, adding a fresh vibrancy and becoming the new beating heart of a new community model.

Just as in retail, targeting a single common denominator ignores the opportunity to provide those learning experiences that will add sufficient value and drive the engagement that will be the difference between a vibrant and sustainable offer and a new white elephant.

The Community Learning Centre

The future could be a complete lifelong learning ecosystem that incorporates the entire learning lifecycle from kindergarten to executive training – a multi-generational community hub that provides educational opportunities for all, distinct from but also potentially integrated within the other experiential offers within the traditional retail environment.

Despite the demise of the department store, perhaps it is signposting towards a model than can be repurposed as a diagram for this holistic future shopping centre, where the education operator becomes the curator with multiple providers within.

The mall as we have always understood it remains a marketplace but not just for goods and not even for additional services but also a marketplace for ideas and knowledge.

Case study - Agora Colearning, Singapore

Agora Colearning is an education hub that has launched in the HarbourFront Centre mall in Singapore.

The Agora concept has evolved from Singapore’s growing after-school enrichment market with the creation of a unique ecosystem under one roof that combines technology and inspirational learning spaces to provide educational services for a variety of users throughout the day.

The educational services are delivered by a wide variety of established education providers. Agora’s digital platform enables parents to search, book and pay for courses in one space as well as allowing parents and teachers to communicate and share homework.

The 20,000sqft centre, which has been designed by Broadway Malyan, includes a variety of engaging spaces that provide different learning opportunities, including modular classrooms that have been designed specifically for the needs of children and can be reconfigured and combined as appropriate.

The centre also includes a makerspace focused on helping children acquire 21st century skills and provides them with hands on learning that enables them to develop critical thinking skills and boost their self-confidence.

There are two multi-function studios for dance, gym, yoga, martial and performing arts, a colearning lounge and library for children to rest and work and a large outdoor space overlooking Sentosa Island for children to play various sports.

The centre caters for children aged 0 to 12 and as well as providing after-school services throughout the week. The centre provides daily pre-school sessions in the morning while also becoming an important hub for the home-schooling community, providing facilities that are unavailable in a home environment as well as helping to foster important social connections.

Click on this link to download the whole report to read Ben's 10 steps to create a Community Learning Hub in a retail setting.