Darling chats to Be Richmond, Kingston First and Love Wimbledon, three BIDs, or Business Improvement Districts, about the practical steps they’ve taken in order to help businesses in the town centres during the Covid crisis. The BID Managers also share their visions for the future of the high street as our retail landscape is changing fast with increasing online sales.
Ellen Amorina Storrar, Manager, Be Richmond
Be Richmond represents over 300 businesses, including online retailers such as Graze and Not On The High Street. We see a requirement to plan for a new normal where online and physical retail complement each other, not only in light of Covid, but also within prevailing business and leisure trends. We are working with other local stakeholders on a ‘Future Vision for Richmond’ plan, which is an opportunity to shape the way our town centre evolves, whilst still preserving our rich heritage. Short-term projects include additional greening, outdoor seating, a performance space and a mini ‘town square’; others will require more time and external funding.
During the lockdowns, our website has become a vital information hub, with links to Covid-19 resources, information about financial support and a list of local businesses offering online ordering, home delivery and click and collect services. We’ve hosted webinars on mental health and a session on re-opening safely, with free risk assessment templates made available to businesses. The BID continues to fund regular disinfection of high-traffic touch points in the town centre with anti-Covid-19 viricidal spray.
Retail space is governed by individual landlords, but Be Richmond is funding temporary graphics to improve some of the empty windows. We are also working with Richmond Council to explore how these units could be occupied by pop-up brands or cultural organisations. What’s important is that we love Richmond and want to see the town centre recover and thrive.
Kirsten Henly, Chief Executive, Kingston First
Since the start of the pandemic, Kingston First has been communicating all the government’s latest policy changes to businesses, enabling them to promptly apply for support. We’ve also lobbied on multiple issues, including the #RaiseTheBar campaign, enabling qualifying businesses to apply for grants via Kingston Council. Coordination of a town wide safe re-opening campaign, working closely with the Council, Police, industry experts and our MP, has been a key task for us.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve looked to foster a sense of community and pride in our town, as well as offering practical support. Our ‘We Are Kingston’ campaign portrays this well by highlighting some of Kingston’s much loved independent businesses in an exhibition on Kingston Market Place. This personal campaign aims to inspire people to shop locally and support town centre businesses now and beyond. We work closely with our partners to build a new vision for Kingston based on the importance of community in towns and high streets and learning from the challenges Covid-19 has brought us.
Our collaboration with Kingston School of Art on ‘Kingston Canvas’ aims to inject colourful and vibrant imagery into the town centre’s vacant retail units. Students were commissioned to produce artworks about Kingston: Past, Present, Future. You can see the results on the large ex-Clas Ohlsen unit on Kingston Market Place, on Eden Street and on several units down Clarence Street. We are looking forward to building on this partnership and developing this work further next year.
Helen Clark Bell, Chief Executive, Love Wimbledon
Can we turn Wimbledon into one of the country’s first “Fifteen Minute Cities”? The concept of the ‘15-minute city’ is not a new one, but there is much discussion about this being at the centre of our recovery, which in turn also correlates with a green future. Although we don’t proclaim it as such, Wimbledon already satisfies the requirements of having our daily needs met within a 15-minute walk, bike or bus ride from our home.
The number of vacant premises in Wimbledon is increasing, just like many other town and high street areas. We are working with landlords to encourage them to work with small independent retailers to offer them the opportunity to be in Wimbledon. The town has a lot to offer, and was recovering well prior to the second lockdown, but the uncertainty of national or regional lockdowns does not provide confidence in any economy.
However, during Covid-19 it has become evident how much we rely upon human contact for our emotional wellbeing and we certainly don’t feel enriched through our lack of cultural entertainment. Town centres have always been at the heart of our community, the meeting place, giving the sense of identity and civic pride long before they became the retail hub of the ‘90s.
Love Wimbledon has a clear #Lovelocal message reminding us to think again before clicking on that internet basket; within 15 minutes there are hundreds of businesses providing local jobs, supporting local families, many of whom recently stepped up to play their part in supporting our local community. During lockdown many different businesses in Wimbledon donated to Wimbledon Foodbank and Local Dons Action Group, providing volunteers to undertake deliveries to those that were shielding or in need.
Christmas still promises our usual vibrant Piazza markets and our new Reindeer Augmented Reality installations. Christmas is coming to Wimbledon, with a state of the art augmented reality reindeer trail and ‘Winter Wonderland’ experience in Centre Court and our weekly Christmas markets will bring the festive spirit into Wimbledon. Shop local this Christmas for the future of our town.
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