Why Harrogate BID's festive success shows town centre has a future

The return of Covid restrictions may have dampened festive spirit but the manager of Harrogate BID says the success of the town’s Christmas campaign shows there can be a positive future for the high street if everyone works together.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 9:36 am
Updated Thursday, 30th December 2021, 9:40 am
Harrogate BID manager Matthew Chapman and BID chair Sara Ferguson.

Matthew Chapman, who took on the role of manager of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) in early May, said the business group was proud of its role in helping to bring a feast of attractions, events and activities to the town centre in December.

“We all want the same things for Harrogate,” he said. “The Christmas push proved that. It also proved that it’s all about collaboration and people working together.

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“Retailers were expecting us to pull out all the stops this Christmas, and I think we did.”

Harrogate BID’s list of collaborations in the Christmas period included:

Working with Harrogate Borough Council to offer shoppers free parking in Victoria multi-storey car park at set times throughout the build-up to Christmas;

Supporting the new Harrogate Christmas Fayre in the Cambridge Street area presented by Harrogate Borough Council and Market Place Europe;

Paying for the town’s Christmas lights and illuminating more streets than in previous years;

Co-funding the Ferris wheel, Victorian carousel, and helter skelter;

Providing free rides on the festive road train called Candy Cane Express;

Setting up the Harrogate Father Christmas experience and Elf School at the Crown Hotel;

Partnering with the Rotary Club of Harrogate for the annual Christmas Shop Window competition;

Partnering with Harrogate International Festivals for their North Pole post office.

The outcome of what was widely agreed to be the most impressive programme of festive offerings Harrogate has seen in many years was far from academic.

The aim of all this effort and expenditure by Harrogate BID was to support the town’s retail and hospitality sectors by encouraging shoppers and revellers - from the local area and further afield - to shop, eat and drink in the town during the run-up to Christmas.

The good news for town centre traders is all that festive effort appears to have done just that, translating into increased footfall, at least until the onset of Omicron.

The opening weekend of the new Harrogate Christmas Fayre and its Swiss-style wooden chalets was hailed as the busiest since pre-Covid times and other days saw packed shopping streets, despite storms Arwen and Barra doing their best to put people off.

Mr Chapman, who served in similar roles at BIDs in Leeds and Huddersfield before arriving in Harrogate, said it was great to see the buzz back in the town centre.

“It wasn’t just that it was busy, it got people talking about the town again in a positive way. The town looked amazing.

“At the moment we are getting feedback from businesses on what they thought of it all so we can plan for next year.

“Harrogate has so much to offer and we know we can go even bigger and better next time, Covid permitting.”

Launched three years ago after winning the support of 82% of businesses in a town centre wide ballot, after a troubled start Harrogate BID has been determined to rise to the challenge.

Despite the success of the Christmas campaign, the BID team, led by chair Sara Ferguson sees its mission as doing more and more to support traders all-year round.

Mr Chapman points to the popularity of its Lego Trail in the summer with a series of Harrogate landmarks created from Lego bricks as evidence that bringing family attractions to the town does work.

“We wanted to create a trail that would really appeal to families during the school holidays after the Government lifted lockdown but that would directly link to shops and businesses.

“We could see from the Lego app that 6,000 people actually came into the town centre to see the trail.”

Before 2021 had even ended, BID announced it would be bringing back Sunday Freeway from this weekend which sees it sponsoring free journeys on the electric buses run by The Harrogate Bus Company every Sunday in January and February 2022.

It’s only the first of what Mr Chapman says will be an exciting list of measures planned for next year which Harrogate BID levy payers will get the opportunity to hear about it at its AGM being held on Thursday, January 13 at the Crown Hotel.

The BID team are mindful that keeping streets in the town centre clean with the help of BID’s Street Ranger remains a basic part of the task in hand.

But, with Harrogate BID’s term set to end in 2023 when it will once again face a ballot of businesses, Mr Chapman is aware that the organisation needs to be about more than simply looking after the hanging baskets.

At the end of the day, BID’s sole function is to support local businesses.

Mr Chapman said: “Ultimately BID belongs to he businesses. I’m really keen on listening to people and working for people.

“We would like to invite all businesses within the BID area to the AGM to hear about the positive projects of 2021 and to help shape 2022.

“We don’t know what is going to happen with Covid or restrictions but we’ve got a sea of events planned for next year with some really exciting ideas. We want to say to businesses in Harrogate “this is what we did last year and this is what we want to deliver next year”.”

Factfile: What is Harrogate BID?

Harrogate BID was formed in 2019 after a positive Business Improvement District (BID) ballot result was recorded from local traders.

Using funds raised from businesses located in Harrogate town centre, BID aims to help businesses take control of and improve the trading environment.

Its work does not replace core public sector services provided by the local authorities.

Harrogate BID’s AGM is being held on Thursday, January 13 at The Crown Hotel in Harrogate and the BID board would like to invite all businesses within the BID area to attend.

The last Harrogate BID board elections were held in November 2020.

The BID term lasts five years.

Its future will depend on the result of the next Business Improvement District (BID) ballot which will take place in late 2023.

Since legislation was introduced in 2004, more than 300 BIDs have been set up in UK town and cities.

For more information, visit: www.harrogatebid.co.uk