Since the beginning of the pandemic, and the lockdowns that followed, the question being asked by real estate investors, retailers, shoppers and even local councils is - how will shopping centres survive?

A retail sector already under pressure from the shift towards online shopping has been further hit by lockdowns which left non-essential shops in south west London shut for months at a time, with empty units becoming an increasingly common sight as a result.

And, while the coronavirus crisis has had a major impact for all retail destinations, shopping centres seem to have been hit the worst.

New data has revealed at least 30 shopping centres in the UK are now half empty, including five with more than 80 per cent of their shops vacant, according to Local Data Company.

Your Local Guardian: Empty units in Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre Empty units in Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre

Currently, 70 out of Britains 700 shopping centres are at risk of closure due to the coronavirus crisis.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of The British Retail Consortium said that the vacancy rate could rise further now the Covid-19 business rates holiday has come to an end.

So what are shopping centres in south west London doing to boost footfall?

In Croydon, a new adventure park has been launched in Centrale, including an ice rink, mini golf, interactive football and an assault course.

The new 30,000 square foot venue set up by Flip Out is based on the upper floors and also features a traditional arcade, laser quest and an inflatable play area.

Your Local Guardian: Ice rink at Croydon Centrale Ice rink at Croydon Centrale

See more: New adventure Super Centre is coming to Croydon

Nearby, Croydon BID (Business Improvement District) has teamed-up with the Whitgift Centre - earmarked for a high-profile but stalled Westfield development - to introduce a temporary Dinosaur-themed trail focused around 13 life-sized toy brick dinosaur models, with freebies.

Matthew Sims, CEO, Croydon BID said: "As we look to the future, we need to consider new and innovative ways to inject life and energy back into our town centres as we look to recover economically.

"The introduction of events such as the Brickosaurs Trail and the recently opened activity centre offers something different.

Your Local Guardian: Croydon Whitgift Centre Croydon Whitgift Centre

"They provide a different appeal, attracting people back into our town centres in a safe and welcoming way.

"Over time, with the support of events, activities and collaborative partnerships, we believe Croydon will start to recover, recreate and reimagine new spaces that will support our future growth."

Similarly, in Wandsworth, Gravity adventure park is due to open its doors in Southside shopping centre this weekend (August 7).

Gravity will take over the 80,000 sq ft former Debenhams which closed in January 2020, in a joint venture with the landlord Landsec and investment company Invesco.

The entertainment complex, aimed at both families and corporate clients, offers bowling, live music, sports, a cocktail bar, restaurant and more.

Your Local Guardian: Former Debenhams site Former Debenhams site

The firm recently told the Evening Standard it expects the hub to drive footfall to the mall by more than 40% above pre-Covid levels.

In Wimbledon, Centre Court Shopping Centre was acquired by developer Romulus during the pandemic.

The shopping centre was snapped up for a cut-price £70 million which has "raised a few eyebrows in the property community", according to Stephen Springham, head of retail at Knight Frank.

See more: Plans to re-establish centre court as shopping centre in new hands

Lynsey Coleman, a senior manager at Centre Court, told us what Romulus has planned to increase footfall, which fell “significantly” during lockdown but has been “steadily increasing”.

Your Local Guardian: Centre Court Shopping Centre Court Shopping

"We have a mixture of long and short term projects that will look to bring life into the empty spaces within the Centre,” said Ms Coleman.

"Working with local businesses and community groups, we have already brought in the Wimbledon Collective Art Group, Polka Theatre pop-up, Queens Rd Market, AFC Wimbledon pop-up, the NHS vaccine Centre, to name a few.

"Longer term there are plans in motion to increase the mix of retailers and there have been early discussions with a number of retailers."

See more: The new pop-up market bringing life back to Wimbledon Town Centre

Your Local Guardian: Queens Road pop-up Market in Wimbledon Queens Road pop-up Market in Wimbledon

Speaking about the future of retail, she added: "The need to bring Centre Court up to date has been long overdue and is something that Romulus are looking to develop in the near future.

Retail needs to evolve, to create experiences to compete with online and that’s why we want to make [people] fall back in love with shopping centres again.

"The plan is to revitalise the area around the old Debenhams unit with a broader mix of uses."

She went onto say that Centre Court are working on a detailed plan to re-establish the area and will share the plans with the community soon.

Business District Love Wimbledon welcomed the pop-up schemes.

A spokesperson said: "With many people opting to stay close to home this summer, the new pop-up spaces, exhibitions and performances in Centre Court Shopping provide a nice experience for individuals and families to come together and rediscover what Wimbledon Town Centre has to offer."

Stephen Springham, Head of Retail Research at Knight Frank and a Wimbledon resident, said that the shopping centre must do more than introduce temporary schemes to survive the pandemic.

Your Local Guardian: Former Debenhams site in Wimbledon: Centre Court are using art to make empty units look more attractive Former Debenhams site in Wimbledon: Centre Court are using art to make empty units look more attractive

Mr Springham highlighted that some of Centre Court’s issues are “far beyond its control” as he referred to the corporate collapses of key tenants such as Debenhams and the withdrawal from the UK of Gap.

"The landlord and shopping centre management have attempted to arrest this decline through the initiatives [ pop-up schemes]," said Mr Springham.

But the sad reality is that these are only temporary fixes and something much more fundamental is required if Centre Court’s fortunes are to be reversed in the longer term.

"Put bluntly, the whole space has to be completely re-engineered, if (and it is a big ‘if’) it is going to continue as a shopper centre as we know it / have known it.

"We don’t have visibility on firm plans for this as yet, but it is likely to combine a mix of uses – residential, offices and leisure are all likely to feature," said Mr Springham.

Temporary schemes are a start but transforming a shopping centre into a one stop destination, with entertainment is more likely to boost footfall back to pre-Covid levels.

Wimbledon Centre Court has demonstrated that there has been a positive reaction to schemes which involve play and audience interaction.

As Croydon and Wandsworth have shown, leisure led experiences may be the way forward to get consumers offline and back into shopping centres.

See more of our research on business recovery here: How pedestrianisation has helped business recovery in SW London