Community / 23 February 2016

Catching up with KingstonFirst business improvement district

KingstonFirst (in Kingston upon Thames), was the first Business Improvement District, set up in 2004. It now has 750 members who occupy 940 properties and pay a 1 per cent levy based on business rates. This raises about £800,000 for the BID and at the last vote, 81 per cent of businesses voted to support it.

Its main objective in its first two terms was to create a safe, clean and animated town centre which was well promoted and to drive down operational costs for its members, For the last six years, Kingstonfirst has delivered a number of services on behalf of the Local authority. Now, at a time when funding for local authorities is reducing and many are sharing services with other local authorities in areas such as human resources, waste management and social care, there is real scope for BIDs to add even more value.

Now in its third term, it’s taking a more innovative and commercial approach to shaping the town centre via even greater collaboration with more partners. Through combined buying power, KingstonFirst offers its members enormous savings on key business services, including utilities and waste management, providing a direct financial return on their levy investment.

But it is now looking beyond its core area to offer the same services to non-BID members at a charge – the more businesses in the buying group, the greater the savings.

They are also looking at how they can bring property owners, facilities management and investors together to market the right sites in Kingston and achieve the right mix. Using technology they can they track how and what shops customers are visiting and in time may help to market a particular site for a specific type of shop. They would be able to demonstrate demand for a particular type of retail store.
Kingstonfirst sees itself as the custodian of the town, the voice of business, a critical decision maker, a driving force and a credible contributor to the success of the town It is in no doubt about the importance of its relationship with the Council which it considers a critical partner.

Kingston has worked with its local university, with Telefonica which is based locally, and a range of other partners to consider how to attract more visitors to Kingston. Digital marketing is part of its mix. In 2014, it won the London category of the Great British High Streets competition for its innovation around the market square and the integration of the market with other retail outlets and range of historic buildings.

You would probably not think of Kingston upon Thames as a market town, but its daily market, with around 30 stalls, has an estimated annual turnover of £1.3m. It has popular night markets and visiting markets too, with the end of year highlight being its Christmas Market -vital ingredients in the recipe of this flourishing town centre.
Its evening (anything after 5pm) and night-time economy is thriving and is hugely important to their mix. It runs events, from dance festivals to street activated music, has an active Pubwatch, runs Best Bar None and support its street pastors.

It was quite interesting the other day listening to Deltic talking about their venue in Kingston being one for special occasions; their customers visit infrequently – once every two or three months. KingstonFirst is well aware that reputation is important. It works closely with its pubs, bars and nightclubs, recognises the need to provide for all ages and interests and wants to create a thriving town centre which all can enjoy.

As ever, local leadership is important and this is where the Great British High Streets Pledge works so well. National and local companies encouraging their managers to become involved in local high streets, to participate in the work of BIDs, town teams, and local partnerships. Both Business in the Community and British BIDs have shown that individual retail outlets benefit in terms of footfall and income through successful high streets.

Rather obvious you might think, so all a good reason to make contact with me and sign the pledge. All I need is a letter from you agreeing to support the pledge; “I pledge to use the leadership expertise, skills and resources of my business to help UK high streets achieve their full potential”.

Written by

Brigid Simmonds

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