New £45,000 battle to retain Harrogate's reputation and celebrate the district's strengths
These are challenging times for Harrogate’s town centre shops and businesses.
Discussions on rents, rates, parking charges and the number of our shopping units which lay empty, highlight that our town is not immune from the tough times being felt in high streets the length and breadth of the country.
As more and more people turn to the internet for their shopping needs, there is a fear that the very lifeblood of town and city centres could soon be sucked away.
However, a new project - Thinking Place - may yet be the start of the town’s real fightback.
Launched last month by Harrogate Borough Council with a budget of £45,000, it aims to to help develop a new ‘place story’ and brand for both Harrogate and the wider district.
In this era of negative discussion points, growing concern and complaints galore, the Thinking Place project is determined to strike a positive note.
The basic assumption is that the Harrogate district is already a fantastic part of the country which just needs to make more of its assets.
On the face of it, some might be tempted to damn it as simply another branding exercise in a world already awash in marketing ploys.
It’s true the aim is to create a new Harrogate district ‘brand’ to sell to the outside world, but scratch the surface and it would seem there is more to this project than just positive intentions.
The title Thinking Place is also the name of the independent Preston-based marketing firm the council has commissioned to deliver the project, and its website sets out its goals.
Thinking Place aims
Attracting more inward investment to Harrogate;
Encourage private sector collaboration and ownership to grow the local economy;
Get the people and organisations that matter to recognise Harrogate and what it offers;
Retain the businesses and brands we have;
Increase visitor numbers and their length of stay;
Get more businesses involved in promoting the Harrogate district;
Get the Harrogate story in front of the audiences that matter.
A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council said: “The scheme is a piece of collaborative work to create a compelling and consistent ‘story’ about Harrogate district as a place - something that can then be used to easily and consistently communicate why our district is such a great place to invest, do business, live, work, visit and more.”
It would be a mistake to underestimate the scope of Thinking Place. The process has involved gathering opinions from a sizable cross-section of the town’s groups and residents. A Thinking Place steering group has been set up drawn from a lengthy list of key stakeholders including businesses, residents, the voluntary sector, town and parish councils, community organisations, retailers and Harrogate BID.
Among the names on the steering group are Bettys & Taylors, Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Harrogate International Festivals, Harrogate Spring Water, H2k Skincare, Harrogate College, the Harrogate Advertiser and Harrogate Borough Council itself. Public input is being sought in the shaping Harrogate’s new ‘narrative’.
A series of four free public workshops has been taking place across the district over the last week to assess what people think.
After events in Knaresborough, Pateley Bridge and Ripon, the final one took place in Harrogate just four days ago.
Along with an online survey, the Thinking Place project has engaged directly with more than 400 people to date from different demographics.
Coun Graham Swift, deputy leader of Harrogate Borough Council and cabinet member for economic development, said the council was “committed to ensuring that this district retains its reputation as a great place to live, to work and to visit."
He said: “By commissioning a specialist organisation that helps build reputation, we will strengthen our ambition by providing a clear, consistent marketable image of Harrogate which leverages its amazing assets, builds on its heritage and provides a framework for future businesses and visitors to engage in our place.”
The end result of all this talk is expected to come at the end of January 2020 at the final meeting of the steering group.
As a marketing company, Thinking Place prides itself on getting results. It sees its job to attract more inward investment and encourage private sector collaboration and ownership to grow the local economy.
It’s exactly the approach Harrogate Borough Council wants.
A council spokesperson said: “We have a lot of great things to shout about in the Harrogate district, but we believe more needs to be done to raise the profile of the area and promote it further to make potential investors, workers and visitors aware of what we offer.
“This will play a big part in helping to attract more visitors, secure more investment and ensure we have a vibrant future.”