How do we draw more people into Sheffield city centre after 5pm?
Changing perceptions of both retailers and shoppers is the key to bringing Sheffield city centre alive in the evenings.
That's the message from Sheffield BID manager Diane Jarvis 18 months after it launched its Alive After Five in a bid to end the early evening 'dead-zone' for retailers, restaurants and bars.
The campaign, backed by private rather than public money, launched in November 2016 and aims to keep visitors in shops, bars and restaurants between 5pm and 7pm, a time when footfall traditionally drops off.
And Ms Jarvis said she welcomed a five per cent increase in city centre footfall between 5pm and 7pm, and that 40 per cent of retailers now opened until 7pm on a Thursday but said more work needed to be done.
She said: "We have always said it's a long-term strategy and, from our point of view, it's about changing perceptions in the city centre because there are a lot of thoughts that people have.
"It's about closing the gap between day time and night time economy. What we're trying to do on one level is co-ordinate what's going off across food and drink, retail and entertainment.
"It's about behaviour change for people who work in the city centre as well as the businesses and getting everyone to work together as a community to develop a joint-up offer to consumers."
Unlike many other large UK cities Sheffield didn't have a late night city centre shopping scheme before the Alive After Five scheme launched.
Ms Jarvis said the ongoing redevelopment of The Moor, which has see the addition of The Light cinema and Primark, was helping to fill the void in the city centre's footfall but added forthcoming projects such as Heart of the City II, which includes offices and residential accommodation, would also help boost figures further
"The Light Cinema is part of the drive towards a thriving early evening economy. It's a real shot in the arm for what we are trying to achieve as is Primark, which is open until 7pm," she said.
"15 new restaurants have set up in the city centre since Alive After Five launched and all of that is very beneficial but we have to accept that sometimes the elements are against us but we would urge people to keep an open mind.
"There is a lot going off in the city centre that people aren't aware of and that's what we are also trying to do - raise awareness of what's happening."
Heart of the City II is part of a Â£470 million plan for hotels, shops, a food hall, public spaces and accommodation for the area behind Pinstone Street and the work could be finished by 2024
Ms Jarvis said 84 per cent opened until 6pm on weekdays but added that retail was the 'weakest link' in the scheme.
"There is a long way to go. We've always said that it's a long-term strategy but the Heart of the City II is going to help with that," she added.
"But it's all well and good having a complete offer - the supply is there but we also need the demand and demand will come through the growth in offices and residential in the city centre.
"We need people living in the city centre and they need an all-round experience that will compel them to stay in the city centre during what we refer to as 'dwell-time'."
Star readers called for free parking on an evening as a possible solution to boosting visitor numbers in the city centre.
But Ms Jarvis pointed out that parking was available in most council run car parks for just Â£1 after 4.30pm.
She added: "Free parking is a difficult one in a city centre. Everyone says you can get free parking at Meadowhall but in a city centre, you'd get everyone who works in town using it as well and you wouldn't get the turnover of spaces. As soon as you say free parking people are always going to take advantage of that.
"What we are trying to do with the Alive After Five campaign is encourage people who are already in the city centre - workers and those who live here - to stay here and enjoy it on an evening."
'5pm to 7pm is our busiest time'
Simmonites Butchers, on Division Street, is certainly bucking the trend with its opening hours - and owner Neil Simmonite said they are reaping the rewards.
The city centre store opens from 7am until 7pm seven days a week and it's been such a success that plans to open even later on an evening are being considered.
Mr Simmonite said: "It gets very busy after 5pm - it's probably our busiest time of day and it's been that way for about five years.
"We are already on about extending our hours through the evening because there is more footfall. People call in after work to get something for their tea."
He added: "We have been here for 60 years and trading has changed. I would love to be home for 5pm but times have changed and shopping habits have changed. We are moving more towards the continental lifestyle."
One of the city's newest restaurants filling the 'dead-zone'
Pieminister, which only opened its doors on Division Street in March, is hoping to make the most of nearby offices to fill the gap in the city centre footfall.
Supervisor Matt Ledger said: "We've been open since March and it's been going really well.
"With the Light Cinema opening people are coming into to town on an evening and coming up here for food and then down The Moor to watch a film."
Mr Ledger, 20, said the restaurant did enjoy a 'slight pick-up' around 5pm as city centre workers call in for a meal after work.
"The Alive After Five campaign is definitely something we support. It feels like a bit of a community on Division Street. If we are busy we will send customers to Bungalow and Bears for a drink and then fetch them back when we have a table for them."
'Level of trade depends on day of week'
Rob King, one of the managers at the Bungalow and Bears, on Division Street said trade did fall between 5pm and 7pm but that incentives were in place to combat it.
He said: "It depends on the day of the week as to how busy we are. It does tend to be a fairly quiet time but that's because a lot of people are eating.
"But I don't think town is as busy as it used to be in general either - not just at those times.
"We've done a loyalty card scheme which people can pass around their office and get discounts.
"There are a lot of offices around us and on a Friday we have a live DJ set on from 5pm to try and attract people."