‘New voice’ for town indies as Independent Harrogate sets out plans to boost trade

William Woods and Robert Ogden on James Street. Picture: Gerard Binks
William Woods and Robert Ogden on James Street. Picture: Gerard Binks

As many as 80 Harrogate businesses are taking action into their own hands to combat the challenges to our high street sector by setting up their own ‘Independent Harrogate’ group.

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Frustrated by what they say is the toll of empty shops and high costs of operating in Harrogate town centre, the new group will work to create initiatives which will “boost footfall and make the town more attractive and convenient.”

Describing themselves as a new “powerful independent collective voice,” organisers of Independent Harrogate have issued an open letter to explain what the aims of this new group for retailers, cafés and restaurants are.

Signed by Robert Ogden and Ben Ogden FGA (Ogden of Harrogate), William Woods (Woods Fine Linens), Christopher Butterworth (former Raworths LLP) and what it says are more than 80 business members of Independent Harrogate, the letter says:

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“For generations Harrogate has been famous for its independent shopping but that is now under threat.

“We know that the unfair ratings system needs to be updated by central government and the rise of online shopping changes the convenience landscape. But there remains much that we can do to attract visitors to our beautiful town and its businesses.

“We have now formed a powerful independent collective voice, Independent Harrogate, with the aim of championing the best independents of Harrogate, understanding their challenges and supporting them.

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“Harrogate is renowned for a brilliant, vibrant range of independent businesses, and it is one of the main reasons people cite for visiting the town.

“The likes of Adage Dance, Arkwrights Hardware, Bass & Bligh, Bijouled, GA Taylor, G23/Porters, H2K Skincare, Helen James Flowers, Imagined Things, Maturi Bag & Baggage, Morgan Clare, Milk & Honey, Ogdens of Harrogate, Stephen Neall Group, Tennants Auctioneers, Walker Galleries, Weetons, Whites, Woods Fine Linens, Yorkshire Farmers Meat Company and more than 60 more distinguished businesses are on board so far.

“We are now also supported by (BIRA) British Independent Retail Association, representing 7,000 similar businesses nationwide.

“We share a collective interest in initiatives which will boost footfall and make our town more attractive and convenient, and would also like to work closely with existing organisations including Visit Harrogate and the Harrogate BID.”

It goes on to list the new group’s principal aims as:

* To lobby central government for a fairer ratings system through BIRA;

* To enlist support from BIRA and its members to influence some ‘joined-up thinking’ by NYCC and HBC and discourage initiatives that have negative effects on town centre trading conditions such as high parking charges, vagrancy and tired streets;

* To work with Harrogate BID and encourage them to be ‘truly representative’ of their levy payers by including independent retail businesses on their board;

* To increase footfall to the shops, cafés and restaurants;

* To work with other organisations and government to ensure there is a fairer playing field where both ‘online only’ businesses and bricks and mortar businesses can co-exist without one disadvantaging the other.

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The letter finishes with a strong reassuring message for the people living in the town and for the people who are running Harrogate, urging everyone to come together.

“Above all we want Harrogate to be different, vibrant and highly successful,” it reads. “We are at the heart of your town.”

Independent Harrogate: 'We want to work with other groups in the town'

Although there is plenty Independent Harrogate group can do by and for itself, if it is to achieve all of its objectives it will have to work with the local authorities and other groups in Harrogate.

One of its leading lights, jeweller Robert Ogden said they would be meeting Harrogate Business Improvement District early next week.

Mr Ogden said: “It is particularly important to us that we forge a close and mutually supportive relationship with the Harrogate BID, as we all have Harrogate’s best interests at heart.”

Harrogate Borough Council has welcomed the formation of the new group.

Coun Graham Swift, deputy leader and cabinet member for economic development, said: “As a council, we’re keen to work with all businesses from the Harrogate Independents to the Chamber of Trade, Destination Harrogate and the BID, to which we are the largest contributor.

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“All of these important networks have a role to play in making their businesses successful.

“I am also very excited to learn that BIRA are getting more engaged. We met with BIRA last year and CEO Andrew Goodacre, was very complimentary of our work.

“It would be terrific to do more with this respected national organisation.

“I look forward to meeting again with the leaders of the Harrogate Independents to discuss how we can work together to better promote Harrogate and encourage our independent shops.”

For more information on the new group Independent Harrogate you can go to their new website online at:

www.independentharrogate.org