The Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in Ilkley and Keighley have played a key role in supporting and advising businesses during the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown in the two town centres. Both organisations have worked immensely hard to ensure they do all they can to help their levy payers deal with this unprecedented crisis, and to play a central role in aiding the town centres to gradually recover after lockdown.
And both firmly believe that their presence in the towns has made a real difference in a very challenging situation, and had BIDs not existed, the situation could have been much worse. Less than a year into its first five-year term after a successful ballot, Ilkley BID had barely had time to find its feet when the pandemic and lockdown measures introduced to tackle it began to impact on the High Street.
As many businesses, particularly food outlets, started to offer takeaway and delivery services, Ilkley BID came up with the pioneering Ilkley To You campaign, setting up a website and Facebook and Instagram page to collate all local businesses who were trading during lockdown.
BID manager Helen Rhodes said: “A lot of our independent retailers wanted to do click and collect, so it just meant that we could incorporate them on here as well and not make it too food focused.”The campaign message was ‘If you can’t come to Ilkley, let Ilkley come to you!’, with a huge billboard set up on the A65 advertising it, along with a media launch that helped bring thousands to the website.
For one Ilkley business, Martinez Wines, the enforced move to online only saw orders going from an average of four per week to up to 96 per day. Jonathan Cocker of Martinez Wines says that the Ilkley business community has “virtually galvanised” through this crisis with retailers sharing each others’ news and providing support – for example Jonathan recommends good wines to drink with certain books from The Grove Bookshop or with Lishman’s sausages!
Helen believes that the BID has played a key role in supporting businesses through the crisis, and will be key as the town centre recovers. “There’s been a significant amount of work involved in liaising with the council about the business grants, for example. If the BID hadn’t been in existence, there just wouldn’t have been anyone doing that, so it has been important and served a really good role, and it’s something that is going to continue to be important as we continue to drive footfall back safely into the town centre over the next few months.”
She said the BID has three main projects underway as things get going again.
“One is launching a Discover Ilkley website. We’ve just been through a branding process and we are looking to work with other organisations in the town to promote Ilkley to both residents and a wider audience.,” she said.
The site will have commercial focus for businesses but it will also to be something that is attractive to consumers and visitors as well.
Tying in with that, the BID has signed up with a place promotion app called LoyalFree, and the third element is the use of a piece of software called Placedashboard, which tracks visitors and shoppers around the town and records their habits.
She said it was very much something they had planned to do prior to the crisis, but it was even more important as the town begins to re-open.
Helen Rhodes- BID Manager
. “There’s been a significant amount of work involved in liaising with the council about the business grants, for example. If the BID hadn’t been in existence, there just wouldn’t have been anyone doing that, so it has been important and served a really good role, and it’s something that is going to continue to be important as we continue to drive footfall back safely into the town centre over the next few months.”
Helen said the BID would also be looking at offering social media and online training. “One thing that the lockdown did identify was that some businesses are really good with the social media and digital skills, whereas others don’t really do anything in that area, so digital upskilling is something I’d like to focus on in the next 12 months,” she said.
In Keighley, BID manager Paul Howard said its role changed virtually overnight in March from an organisation delivering marketing, events and projects designed to bring visitors into the town to one of supporting an international crisis.
He said for businesses that continued trading, the BID maintained its support through digital channels, ensuring customers knew they were still delivering.
“Many businesses were concerned about how they would access grants and we have been in a position through our network of established contacts to escalate these payments where there was a real concern of a business failing imminently,” he said.
“If there is a positive to come out of this, we have had the opportunity to work much more closely with the local authority, other BIDs across the region and other national organisations to continue promoting the importance of local town centres like Keighley.”
Keighley BID prepared plans for a phased approach to re-opening and started to action these as dates were confirmed.
They included keeping a list of businesses opening on its website and social media channels; producing and distributing a comprehensive guide for businesses on what they needed to do to ensure the safety of their staff and customers; producing and distributed media packs for businesses; launching an online safe space indicator showing how busy certain areas of town were; and producing and installing ‘Back in Business’ posters and banners.
“We are now of course looking into additional support we can provide to businesses and returning to more of ‘business as usual’. Much of what we have done previously, we will not be able to do so in the near future so we are re-allocating finances from what was in our events budget to other activities such as the very popular shop local campaign, Keighley Independents,” Paul said.
“ONE THING THAT THE LOCKDOWN DID IDENTIFY WAS THAT SOME BUSINESSES ARE REALLY GOOD WITH THE SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIGITAL SKILLS, WHEREAS OTHERS DON’T REALLY DO ANYTHING IN THAT AREA, SO DIGITAL UPSKILLING IS SOMETHING I’D LIKE TO FOCUS ON