When I reflect on the past 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the economy, particularly retail, hospitality and leisure. Croydon BID has represented and provided that voice and stepped up in terms of how we represent locally, but also regionally, nationally. The Raise the Bar campaign was a collective campaign, driven and led by Croydon BID, but supported nationally. We shone a light on an issue, something we didn’t agree with and didn’t think was fair, and neither did lots of business – inside and outside of Croydon.
Without the backing of trade bodies and associations to put pressure on politicians, we wouldn’t have been able to unlock that £1billion – but we’re much more than just a voice and our members are more than just businesses.
They are more than a name above a premises – they are the heart of the community and play a significant role in what a place offers. Without that, and the people behind them, we lose that sense of place.
The BID is a one stop shop. We campaign, we communicate, we solve problems through our knowledge, experience and the relationships we have. A lot of what we do is down to the relationships we have with our business community, which is absolutely vital. It’s very difficult for a business to function in an environment we currently have without representation. That support was pivotal, but now we look forward and can say with complete confidence, that need for a business voice is greater than ever.
If there was ever a need for a business improvement district in Croydon town centre, it’s now. I'm a true believer of that, 100%. Knowing what I know, the environment in which we're operating, and all the challenges that Croydon faces, now's the time.
We're in that space where we’re starting to look forward and are more optimistic than we were 18 months ago. But we still have a long way and when you take the challenges, which include; the economy, which will take time to recover, Croydon itself and the challenge it will face as every town and city will be fighting for every inch of support it can possibly get started to look forward given the financial challenges faced by the local authority; and one which is a challenge as well as an opportunity – Croydon’s regeneration.
The regeneration hasn’t stopped. We’ve got cranes in the sky and a lot of growth happening, especially around East Croydon. The town centre is continuing to transform. What we need is certainty and clarity about where our town centre is going and how it will look – in three, five, 10, 15 years. We desperately need that, as well as needing the business community to be central to that. It’s their town centre, not ours. It's about how their town centre evolves, the role they play within its evolution, what they want to see and what their needs and priorities are.
As we take things forward we will come together as a community, as a voice and represent their needs. We will challenge things, make their voice heard and represent what they need, as we look to improve Croydon town centre.
I'm excited about the next five years, I really am. The task ahead is difficult, I know. There will be barriers and obstacles to overcome. But we're realistic about what can be achieved. Every town and city is in a similar situation in the sense it has to reimagine and reinvent itself. We want to make a difference in every possible way. I’m excited by the opportunity that presents.
I was asked a long time ago: “What’s the vision of the BID?”
I explained it’s not my vision, it’s the vision of the 550 businesses we represent. They give us their needs and hopes and we have to meet those head on.
And with the position Croydon is in at the moment, businesses want and need to feel safer. The reality of crime, coupled with a perception of crime, we need to deal with both and work with our partners to do that. That's absolutely essential in terms of the other things that we want to achieve.
Homelessness is on the rise. We need to be more coordinated about how we approach it, how we work with businesses and partners to support those on our streets and work things through and be able to provide the tools to businesses so that from a safety point of view, they feel safe, their staff feel safe, their customers feel safe and our visitors feel safe. It won’t be an easy fix – we are one of the, if the not the, largest borough in terms of population. Tackling this comes with challenges, but they’re not insurmountable.
Safety is a priority for our members and the second part, which follows very close behind, is refresh.
Our town centre has to look and feel better. This ranges from bringing in vibrant street art, to carrying out street cleaning and planting, delivering colour and vibrancy into our spaces. One example is the bollards down George Street. It’s simple but still important. They’re scraped, scratched, and not been looked after in years. We’ve just gone out and painted them, because we need to improve the look and feel of this place, and that, alongside painting hoardings and graffitied shutters and others bits of maintenance makes a massive difference.
And then we’ll need to put the energy back into the town centre. We want activity, we want more Brickosaurs, we want more monsters, all those sorts of things. Treat Out is another which we’re going to do to promote businesses. We’re going to promote the sectors our businesses work in. Not forgetting the need to communicate with our residential core. They’ve got to know what’s going on. We’ve also got to look at the Borough of Culture in 2023 as we want to be a key partner. Those will bring that energy back.
More importantly, we are a personable service. I know the members; my team knows the members and we’re just a phone call away. And we offer a special service in a way as if we can’t do it ourselves, we’ll know somebody that can. And that embodies the community aspect of Croydon which is so important.
Then there’s the additional important aspects. Like a lot of our members, we want business rates reform. We want action on it. But we’re not going to lead on it, we’ll be part of the voice making action happen. We also have the little things businesses need to help them plan - insights and analysis they can’t get elsewhere. We have the footfall monitoring data, economic spend data and much more. All of this makes up what we are – Croydon BID.
We’ve got a town centre that’s got vacant units like every other town and city across the UK, so let’s be different. Let's think about what we can do with those units and have a clear strategy in terms of how we, our partners and, more importantly because we don't own the land or the property, property owners can look to attracting new investment into our town centre. The offer has to improve.
We’ve got to attract investment. It's more than just about saying come in. It’s about being able to target and bringing together an offer that fits together and complements one another.
To attract that kind of investment, we’ll need to work with property owners, the council and project Croydon in a positive way so businesses buy into the positivity Croydon has to offer as a destination. We have a positive future ahead of us – we all need to work with one another to make it happen.
We’ve got East Croydon and West Croydon train stations. We want them reclassified to zone four. If we’re voted in, we will launch a campaign to push for reclassification. it has the opportunity of making Croydon a more attractive destination for businesses to relocate, a more attractive place for residents to live, people to visit and people to work. And then you also start to attract in workers from the surrounding areas, who may not have chosen Croydon before and you'll start to get growth on different levels.
Finally, it’s clarity. If we know where we're going, what we’re doing and what our town centre is going to look like, we’ll have the confidence we need to grow. Importantly, confidence spreads. We’ve had clarity and certainty before, but we’ve lost a little bit of that. One thing Croydon has always had is partnership. And right now, we need it in spades.
If you resolve, put safety first, and refresh, and you brighten up our streets, revitalise and put the energy back into the town centre, you represent our business community because they’re one of the most important aspect we’ve got. They’re much more than businesses. They are people, they are the hub, and they are the central core to our community. And once we’ve got all those together, we’re going to thrive, we’re going to grow, and we’re going to compete.
I’m not prepared to sit and wait. Our business proposal is designed for five years plus. When we go to ballot and talk to our businesses, we're going to last five years, because that's how a BID model works, but our business plan has been designed for five years plus, because there are some things in here that we need to put in place as a foundation with our partners, for Croydon to recover and grow.
Our business plan is quite clear, it says it on the front cover. Together we can. Together we will.
I’m realistic, but I’m also optimistic. When I see a challenge, I see an opportunity. There’s something about Croydon that’s special. Yes, it has its problems – but so does everywhere else. When I look at what the team have managed to achieve in a short space of time, particularly in response to the pandemic, we’ve got a chance.
It will take blood, sweat and tears to do it. But why can’t we change things? If everybody said it was impossible, nothing would happen. If you get a group, a community and a collective to come together and say “it might be tough, but let’s give it a shot,” let’s see what happens and let’s see where we are in five years’ time, because it may surprise you.