In the coming weeks businesses in Penrith will be asked to vote on the future of their town centre initiative, through a postal ballot that will take place from 3rd to 30th November 2017. Local business owners and store managers are busily distributing a prospectus setting out the reasons for continuing with Penrith’s award-winning Business Improvement District for a further 5 years term.
For almost five years the businesses in Penrith have been working together to boost business and trade in the town centre, and doing so in spite of a perfect storm of low economic growth, fierce price competition between the supermarkets and the onward growth in internet shopping. Through the Business Improvement District, or BID as it is better known, the town’s businesses pay money into a ring-fenced fund that can then be used to “make things happen” in the town. Contributors include the town’s largest supermarkets as well as the smaller independently-owned businesses. The BID is a business-led initiative, enabling the businesses to do things jointly to address the priorities that they share. To work in this way is a clear indication that the town’s business community reject any suggestion that doing nothing is an option in today’s competitive world. By funding their BID, they are already taking action to help the town centre to not only survive the storm, but to build momentum and thrive.
Penrith’s BID has been successful on several fronts, notably in marketing and promoting the town through the ‘Discover Penrith’ brand, through financial support for several key events such as the Winter Droving, by adding some much-needed Christmas sparkle, and by winning Britain in Bloom awards for the plants and flowers delivered through a ‘Greening Penrith’ initiative which has significantly enhanced the appearance of the town centre.
The challenges facing the town’s businesses still remain however, and there is still much more to do in order to make Penrith the vibrant town centre that it has the potential to be. Penrith BID is generating over £130,000 per year, around £95,000 of which is derived through a levy on almost 400 businesses, and the rest through sponsorship and generating other income for the BID’s activities. All of this money is kept and spent locally to promote business and trade in the town. It is a significant investment that is raising the profile of the town, and promoting very positive impressions of Penrith as a place for shops & services, eating & drinking, and entertainment. The impact of this investment may not have been instant, but it is becoming clearer with each month, and each year, that the BID is providing a very welcome and much-needed boost to the town centre.
The BID is managed by local business people. The current Chair of the BID Management Board, Dan Harding says, “I think Penrith is an exciting place to be right now. We are very proud of our town centre. It has a fantastic choice of shops and services and now has some of the county’s most attractive public spaces. The squares, the lanes, the arcade, and St Andrew’s churchyard together create a unique setting. We have huge potential in Penrith, but to release it we need the businesses to continue to work together and be part of this initiative. In today’s world, not having a BID means little or no resources to make our town appealing to customers and visitors. With 90% of businesses being asked to contribute less than £1 per day I think the BID is very good value”.
The BID also has the support of larger businesses in the town. The new store manager of Marks & Spencer, Lee Fleming says, “Since opening our new store in Penrith nearly two years ago, we have welcomed the opportunity to work with other retailers and support the town’s thriving business community through the local BID programme. Working with BID allows us to share our expertise and help to support local economic growth and employment.”
Lisa Culling, Business Manager at Barclays Bank is also enthusiastic, saying, “This is a really positive initiative, bringing businesses together to make the town centre a better place for business”.
The importance of the BID has not been missed by the Penrith Chamber of Trade and Commerce, whose President, Heidi Marshall says, “Momentum is building in this town. Some positive changes are taking place and new businesses want to invest in the town. The BID is having a positive impact on people's impressions of Penrith and that can only be good for business. Penrith Chamber urge all businesses to support Penrith BID and vote yes".