Preston city centre: here's why you could be hearing unexpected voices on your next Christmas shopping trip

If the soundtrack to your Christmas shopping trips is a combination of discontented kids and the same old festive songs, then Preston is trying to cut through the cacophony this year and remind you why it is a great place to visit - whether for retail or relaxation.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 6th December 2021, 8:31 pm

The city has become the first high street in the country to install discreet speakers to share audio messages with its visitors.

Shoppers walking along Fishergate and Friargate will be regaled with a friendly voice delivering up to 25 pre-recorded scripts, which include invitations to “really explore” the city centre, reminders to remain Covid safe and details about free parking in the run-up to Christmas.

The equipment, which has been located outside Marks and Spencer and McDonald’s, will play out the messages on what is described as a “light rotation” - so that people do not get fed up of hearing them. They will run from 8.30am until 8.30pm and come into full swing this week after testing was carried out in recent days.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Tiny speakers have been installed outside Marks and Spencer on Fishergate... (image: Kelvin Stuttard)

However, the speakers will not solely be pumping out announcements - meaning they do not provide a complete escape from those traditional Christmas tunes.

“The system provides the city with an opportunity to share messages with people visiting the high street – allowing them to hear about upcoming events and reminding them of some of the city’s attributes,” explains Mark Whittle, manager of Preston City Centre BID [business improvement district].

“We’ve also created messages to say ‘thank you’ to people for safely returning to our city centre - and for their continued and valued support. We’ve had some great feedback from people already, especially with a little festive music interspersed with the messaging.

“They’re particularly useful to remind people of any important information, too. For example, we’ve just uploaded a new message thanking people for using a face covering - where they’re not exempt - inside retail premises, following the new regulations that have just come into play.

...and McDonald's on Friargate (images: Kelvin Stuttard)

“The messages will be changed regularly and there’s no intention to have them playing constantly. The system has been installed to offer information to people visiting the city centre on things that they may not have known, or may be interested to hear,” Mark adds.

A third speaker unit, which will be mobile and can tour the city centre, is also due to hit the streets soon. That will be particularly useful for another feature of the system - the ability to generate real-time emergency or safety messages and have them playing out in less than half a minute.

Mark Whittle says that it is one element of the set-up that Preston hopes it will “never have to use”. However, the Kirkham-based company that has come up with the overall concept and the kit to deliver it claims that it is the system’s flexibility that makes it invaluable.

“You can type a message into a mobile device and it’s live within 20 seconds - it could be used [in cases of] missing children” explains Audiebant managing director Gary Dean.

Shoppers will hear tailored messages as they stroll along some of Preston's busiest shopping streets

The firm’s head of creative, Scott Walker, says that the ability to deploy safety and other public service messages quickly - via a secure web application - is key to the product.

“Fylde Council used it during an event they staged where people were parking [illegally] and the wardens had run out of tickets. Our messages were played and the area was cleared [almost straight away].

“Also, with the impact of Covid, the landscape has changed - and day-to-day businesses are run and managed differently. Government guidelines now recommend using clear signage and audio announcements to provide additional information to the public where possible.

“We’re doing this whilst welcoming them back to the high street and thanking them for their on-going support in what’s been a difficult time for so many,” says Scott.

He believes that audio address systems have a much greater capacity to get messages through to people than traditional display notices in an age when “nobody looks at posters, because they are all walking around looking at their phones”.

The Fylde firm, which was formed in 2018, is hoping that there will be national interest in the system that it has pioneered in Preston, having developed it from the kind of technology that Gary Dean has been involved with deploying in health, education and leisure facilities over the course of 30 years.

WORD ON THE STREET

Here are some examples of what you might be hearing on your next trip into Preston:

***"When was the last time you really explored the city centre? Take some time, explore, and enjoy – we thank you for visiting Preston city centre and wish you an enjoyable day. Support local, love local, love Preston."

***"Preston is home to so many brilliant independent businesses and popular national brands – many of which now accept the new Preston Gift Card – shop local, support local, and treat yourself or a loved one to a Preston Gift Card from PrestonGiftCard.co.uk."

"Preston city centre’s business community want to say ‘thank you’ for your continued support – please enjoy your city centre safely."

Want to see fewer ads? Subscribers to the Lancashire Post get access to the ad-lite version of our website, which features 70% fewer ads and faster load times for a better experience. Find out more.