Introducing Winchester BID and its work in the city
James West of Winchester Bloggers learns how the non-profit making BID helps the city's businesses, the services it provides and the future for the organisation at a pivotal time.
Winchester BID is a highly visible and influential organisation within Winchester. But not everyone is familiar with how it works and what it delivers. I spoke to Catherine Turness, executive director of Winchester BID who told me about the past, present and future of the organisation she is very proud to helm.
What is Winchester BID?
The Winchester Business Improvement District (BID) is a not-for-profit funded partnership which aims to improve the city and help its business thrive. Created by central government to encourage regional business growth, our BID is one of 270 located around the country. Every business within the geographical boundary is required by legislation to fund each BID via their business rates. In the case of Winchester BID, this equates to 1.5% of the rateable value of their property, with exception given to charities and those businesses with a rateable value less than £1250.
Established in 2008, Winchester BID is one of the largest in the country, with more than 700 member businesses. We are elected by member ballot every five years and then execute a business plan which is written following consultation with member businesses.
Tell us about these business plans; what work do you carry out to help the city and its businesses?
Our projects over the last decade have fallen into four objectives:
1) Promotion, marketing, and communications to help members. This includes initiatives such as Fashion Week and the Christmas light switch on. We're working with Visit Wincher, which is part of the Tourism Department, on many cross-channel marketing campaigns and we’re moving increasingly towards digital marketing to help promote the city of Winchester and its businesses.
2) Making Winchester clean, green and more attractive. We fund a number of initiates to ‘improve the public realm’ that are beyond the scope of what’s funded by council tax. So for example, we fund hanging baskets, graffiti, and chewing gum removal. People often think these are local government funded, but they aren't and by definition, we don’t infringe on services local authorities already provide.
3) Keeping the city safe and secure. We have a number of key partnerships with the likes of Hampshire Constabulary, Winchester Churches night shelter, Trinity Winchester, and we facilitate Business Crime Reduction Partnership. We run the Shopwatch and Pubwatch schemes and we fund three police support officers - funding that’s matched by the constabulary, which increases the police presence on the streets. Yes, this helps control crime such as shoplifting but as our evening economy continues to grow, this also helps everyone to have a safe night out.
4) Ensure that business thrives. There’s a lot of behind the scenes that’s hard to visualise and therefore publicise. We work hard lobbying and influencing the ‘powers that be’ to help with issues that affect businesses. For example, changes in business rates and improvements to the station approach development are important for all businesses. We work closely with the Chamber of Commerce to ensure businesses have a collective voice.
We also support businesses by providing the incubator space at the Winchester Business Centre. We set this up five years ago and it is a small income generator for us, but it means that for a very reasonable cost, businesses have a professional working base to grow. This is vital to the local economy and we’ve already seen a number of businesses take larger premises and become full BID members.
How long have you been with BID and what does it mean to you?
I joined in 2011 as the BID was nearing its second ballot. I think it’s a great concept. Given the national economic landscape, it’s more important than ever that local businesses have a collective voice. I love the community spirit and I feel very lucky that Winchester is such a lovely city to do business.
Do you have problems with businesses opposing what you do?
There is some resistance: “don’t I pay business rates for that?” But we find that when we’re able to explain exactly what we do and the range of services we supply, the attitude changes. Many people don’t know half of what we do and are pleasantly surprised by the value we offer. To deliver our agreed business plan, we have to deliver what the businesses have asked us to do and this means we are always accountable.
How do you collaborate with the other BIDs?
I chair our Southern regional group which comprises 18 BIDs located in counties from West Berkshire down to West Sussex. We meet quarterly and it’s about sharing best practice. We all want a strong regional economy and we share statistics and ideas to improve further.”
What successes are you and the team proudest of?
There have been many, but the Christmas lights switch-on featuring live on BBC’s The One Show to 8 million viewers was a stand-out moment because it showed Winchester to so many people. I’m also very proud of the Business Centre which I started five years ago. We’ve seen so much positive collaboration between the businesses using the centre.
You’ve just launched the new business plan as you campaign for a third term. What are the highlights of the business plan?
The new plan is heavily focused towards supporting business growth. The Business Centre is reaching capacity and if we can find the right property, a move will allow more businesses to join.
There’s also a big focus on the how to deliver a digitally connected city. Within this, not only do we want to make Winchester an advanced, digitally-enabled economy, we want to improve access to both online services and the city itself. There a big push to create an integrated single portal to power this.
Independent businesses are also a major part of our plans. Last year, we launched the Favourite Independents campaign and it’s been a great success. This was an ad hoc initiative not included in the business plan, but we strive to introduce schemes like this when we see a way to help BID members.
What’s next for the BID?
The next ballot starts on October 5th to decide whether the BID is granted a third term. The business plan is being sent to members and the consultation process will begin. If we don’t get voted for a third term, the BID would disappear. This would be a massive shame for the city. Our projects would all stop and funding for the services I’ve described to you would cease. There’s no one else to step into the role so Winchester businesses would lose their collective voice. We hope this won’t be the case and welcome questions from members about the business plan.
Thank you for your time Catherine, I hope the ballot delivers the result you are working hard for.