Business leaders behind Think Harrogate insist they still have key role to play and can boost Covid-19 recovery
The business leaders behind Harrogate's new drive to attract visitors and investors have insisted it still has a major role to play and can help boost the district's Covid-19 recovery.
Think Harrogate was launched at the start of March backed by a £45,000 council investment and a troop of business ambassadors ready to sell the district's "story" to the world.
Some people showed their support, whilst others complained it was a waste of public money.
And just two weeks after it was launched, the initiative was thrown further into question as the district descended into lockdown and its ambitious plans came to a sudden halt.
But Mark Roberts, chairman of Think Harrogate and co-owner of craft beer company Beer Hawk, has now insisted support for the drive is as strong as ever and its aims remain the same even though the goalposts have shifted.
He said: "If we go back to the original purpose of Think Harrogate; it’s to bring people together – businesses, community groups and residents - to tell a consistent and compelling story to promote our district.
"There’s obviously been such a huge economic and personal impact of Covid-19 over the last 6 months, I think that it’s more important than ever that all our groups – who all share the same passion for our district – come together to help. That’s what we’re trying to do.
"The economic outlook has clearly become much harder, but I’m convinced that providing the opportunity and platform for us all to work together will really help accelerate our economic recovery."
The initiative was first set in motion when Harrogate Borough Council commissioned marketing firm Thinking Place to develop a "place story" with a clear message for businesses and residents to get behind.
The Preston-based firm says it has a track record of helping areas "maximise their potential" using "tried and tested" branding campaigns to showcase business and residential attractions.
Mr Roberts said planned meetings of local businesses and organisations to mobilise this message in Harrogate have all been forced online, but with more than 60 people tuning in.
He also said Think Harrogate has provided tool-kits to businesses and more action is planned as the district emerges out of lockdown.
It comes as Harrogate Borough Council is planning a major overhaul of the district's tourism strategy with a merging of its various tourism bodies into one council-controlled organisation.
This will include Visit Harrogate, Harrogate Convention Centre's marketing team and the district's tourist information centres all coming together, and the council has pledged to work closely with other outside bodies including Think Harrogate.
Kathryn Daly, the council's head of place-shaping and economic growth, said: "One big positive that has come out of the crisis is the way that it has brought people closer together around a common local agenda – a simple desire to work together to support the people and businesses of the Harrogate district as best we can.
"Over the last few months we have seen businesses stepping up and diversifying to support the local community.
"And if anything, the pandemic has brought an acceleration of local people re- discovering and valuing our beautiful place, appreciating local and wanting to work together to make it better."
Mrs Daly also said the council's £45,000 investment in Think Harrogate has been worthwhile and that it is pleased with the progress it has made.
She said: "We commissioned the place narrative project in the autumn of 2019; and we facilitated the engagement process via Thinking Place to ensure that a wide variety of voices and opinions from the whole district were heard.
"Of course just a couple of weeks after the launch the whole country went into lockdown – so it has certainly not been the six months that anybody was expecting.
"The place leadership group are already doing a fantastic job of promoting the district through their own businesses, connections and networks. They have a really important role to play in helping to encourage people to Think Harrogate."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter