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Getting High Streets and Town Centres back on track – a view from a Business Improvement District perspective.

Getting High Streets and Town Centres back on track – a view from a Business Improvement District perspective.

There are over 320 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the UK.  These are not-for-profit, non-political organisations which by their very raison d’etre are only interested in the ‘improvement’ of the place in where they are located.  During the pandemic BIDs have been well-placed to work with local authorities and statutory organisations in supporting the immediate crisis, and then aiding the ongoing recovery and future transformation of their town, city, or district location.

Image credit: Chapter 81

Collaboration is an easy word to trot of the tongue but quite different to put into practice, but what we have seen during the last 18 months are new collaborations taking place; people who previously have not worked together, in some instances competitors, coming together and working in new ways, often facilitated or in conjunction with a BID.  We need to preserve this going froward.  These new partnerships create capacity in a place to achieve action.

Local authorities are well placed to harness this; starting first to consider the different organisations required to build that capacity before looking at the finances, which immediately creates a barrier.  Success in a place cannot been down to one organisation, nor as Bill Grimsey states, can future visions and place transformation start and end at the Town Hall.  The pandemic has presented an opportunity to work differently.

In Leeds, like any other destination, we had the challenge of co-ordinating street teams, applying for the Welcome Back Fund and grants, getting to grips with these new scenarios and building resilience and confidence in the city centre.  LeedsBID gave over office space in conjunction with a local shopping centre to meet the immediate need and response in lockdowns 1 to 3.  There were no big meetings or minutes – people did the right thing and supported each other.  We are now building on this for the future, creating a ‘hub’ concept in Leeds for front line operational street teams and the police to work together in ways previously not seen.  The BID and the local authority are pooling resources and finances and leveraging grants (ARG/Welcome Back Fund) to put in place long term solutions to assist the recovery of the city centre.

At a time when we thought wallets would close from partners, we have seen them open and be more supportive in working together.  Our forthcoming ‘Leeds Jurassic Trail 2’, a family friendly, city centre activity in the summer, is testimony of the willingness of this – backing rhetoric with action and finance. In these two examples, LeedsBID has been well-placed to lead and bring people together – and continues to do so, encouraging an environment which is truly collaborative, leaving the old ways at the door.

Andrew Cooper, July 2021