With the increase in out of town retail parks and shoppers having ample online opportunities to seek out bargains, just how much are High Streets like Harborne Village really under threat? Harborne Village BID recently invited Andy Street, Mayor of The West Midlands to talk about the challenges facing a suburban centre in Birmingham.
Running a business can be a challenge for anyone, but competition for the shoppers’ pounds is high so like 11 other areas in Birmingham, Harborne Village businesses came together to invest in their area and improve the experience for visitors. In January 2018 the Harborne Village BID (Business Improvement District) was born. One challenge that Harborne faces is being perceived as an affluent suburb and hence without difficulties, but the reality for the retail community can be quite different. Harborne Village BID decided to invite Mayor Andy Street to discuss some of the challenges which include empty shop units, an increase in begging in the area, council cuts putting pressure on local services and a lack of access to additional funding which could help tackle this.
BID Manager, Kate Smart said “we were really pleased to get the opportunity to meet with Andy Street. With a retail background himself, Andy recognises the challenges faced by the sector and the need for High Streets to become community hubs rather than being wholly reliant on a retail offering. In Harborne we’re part way there but we still have challenges to overcome”.
A key focus of the discussion was the need for suburban High Streets to build on what sets them apart from the online shopping experience and the draw of large out of town retail parks. By their very nature businesses in a High Street setting sit at the core of communities and as such need to build on their ability to bring those communities together. Some ideas discussed were re-imagining former retail spaces as places for working artists to come together or incubation spaces for new and emerging businesses in the area to encourage growth and diversification of the business mix in the area.
Speaking about his visit Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It was great to meet with Kate Smart, Harborne’s BID Manager, Chairman Matt Rose and local Councillor Peter Fowler, to discuss the potential of the BID.
“I am a great believer in BIDs and when I was in charge of John Lewis I always wanted to encourage them in the towns where we had stores because I do think that they provide a truly local voice, which can make a real practical difference.
“We spent time discussing the area’s potential, and the trend towards online retailing and what that means for a unique place like Harborne, and its specific needs.
“What is clear is that local services and local retailers will be important – while Harborne benefits from some big chains, such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, it is encouraging to see more local independents coming to add a unique feel to the high street.
Speaking about the future of Harborne Village, BID Chairman Matt Rose is optimistic about the impact the BID can have in facing the challenges discussed, “as a retailer in Harborne for the last 11 years, I have experienced first hand some of the changes, but by collectively investing in the area, our businesses have reduced begging, theft and anti -social behaviour via our Warden scheme, we’re developing activities for families to spend leisure time in the village, such as our Christmas Lights switch-on event and the Bunny Hop hunt this Easter as well as continually looking at ways to support business growth so that we ensure there is a strong core at the heart of our local community.”
Despite facing some challenges, Harborne Village is a very sociable High Street with an excellent food and drink offering. The BID plans to build on this offering and its growing potential to be a focal point for the community.
The local councillors are very supportive of the BID’s work too. Councillor Peter Fowler organised the meeting with The Mayor and Councillor Jayne Francis sits on the BID Board to provide a practical link between the BID and Birmingham City Council.
Having learned more about Harborne Village BID, Andy Street said “ I came away feeling confident about all of the activities that they have planned.”
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