There is no prospect of the UK’s lockdown being lifted before the middle of Spring, but
it won’t be as simple as just opening the doors to towns and cities to aid any economic recovery. To protect high streets in the medium term, there needs to be a strategy to secure the confidence of both business and the public.
Bill Addy chairs the UK BID Foundation, is the CEO of Liverpool BID Company and also chairs the High Street Task Force leadership group, the team is advising the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government on key issues around access and distribution of funding.
He is urging a clear and comprehensive strategy to be in place by towns, cities and local business organisations, to support businesses operating on the UK’s high streets as they prepare to open their doors to customers once again.
“We know that recovery won’t be immediate. Lifting any lockdown cannot be rushed, and it is vital to protect the health of the UK population. Yet it is vital that there is a pre-recovery and pre-lockdown lifting strategy in place to ensure businesses have the best chance available to begin to help the economy rebuild”.
BIDs, or Business Improvement Districts, operate in 200 locations across the UK, covering all major cities as well as medium and small towns. Enshrined in government legislation, BIDs work to improve the environment for businesses to operate, including making areas safe and secure, connecting business and sharing knowledge, pooling resources to create events and to market offers. BIDs are funded through a business levy.
“Both businesses and communities are weathering a storm right now and our first priority has been, and continues to be, that there are businesses still in operation when they are allowed to open their doors once again”, says Bill. “In the past four weeks, BIDs, along with other business networks, have shifted their activity to provide support digitally, being a one stop shop for information for businesses about the support they can access, and lobbying on their behalf, locally, regionally and nationally, to ensure they continue to get the support they need
Yet confidence will be an issue for businesses, especially those within the retail and hospitality sector who are suffering as their income is heavily reliant on footfall and daily custom. Based in Liverpool, Bill has seen first hand the impact on these sectors. Last weekend, tens of thousands would have flooded into the city’s bars and restaurants for Grand National weekend. Instead, the Liverpool Hospitality Group is seeking immediate support to ensure businesses can continue to operate.
“While we are focused on delivering the help that’s needed in the short term, organisations like BIDs need to start focusing on the medium term as well. The earlier we begin to plan, the easier we will be able to transition from lockdown to a gradual return of normal life”.
There are five points Bill wants towns and cities to focus on, to help prepare for post-lockdown.
- Town and city centres need to be secure. This involves working with police but also local authorities and organisations to ensure businesses are physically protected. “With Liverpool BID, for example, we have a BID Police Team that has been working with Merseyside Police to advise business and keep the city centre secure. Areas of crime don’t attract confidence so keeping the centres safe will be a major part in ensuring people feel comfortable when places do reopen”.
- Centres need to be clean and attractive. “This may sound minor, but local authorities, along with BIDs understand that when a centre suffers from litter or graffiti, it can deter people from using it for retail and leisure. That’s the last thing businesses will need when they are able to open their doors”.
- Working together. “Clear and comprehensive messaging is always vital to help people understand any situation, especially one like this. We understand that when there is a relaxation of the lockdown people may well be wary of being in crowds again. Businesses will need to work together, along with other agencies, to help restore confidence in being out in public”. Partnerships established during the crisis need to continue, to help us through recovery and beyond.
- Keeping everyone updated. “The temptation will be to make everyone feel that, the moment doors reopen, everything is back to normal. That won’t be the case. The likelihood is for a gradual release of restrictions. We’ll need to be honest. There’s nothing wrong with being positive, especially if people start to feel comfortable again, but if the situation changes we can’t shy away from it. Safety is paramount”.
- Campaigns to promote towns, cities and business. Local papers and media platforms are struggling and businesses will need clear routes to help them share their good news and activity with the public. Telling the human stories of our places will be key to bring people together. We’re really lucky in Liverpool to have a wealth of places where people can send their news, including BBC local radio stations, but what we call city centre animation, like posters, and marketing to decorate windows and make our towns and cities attractive and enticing will be incredibly important. A little colour and creativity will add a burst of life to high streets, when they need it the most. BIDs work extensively in investing in this kind of street level decoration and it will be incredibly important to welcome shoppers back.