With Carmarthen and Port Talbot both opting to create Business Improvement Districts during the past few months, it is clear that BID membership is increasingly being seen as a safeguarding and a future-proofing tool for town and city centres during these challenging times for high streets, UK-wide.
Here, Russell Greenslade, Chief Executive of Swansea BID, talks about his own ten years within the BID fold, what he feels BID has brought to Swansea City Centre and his advice to the ‘new BIDs on the block’, as they find their feet.
What achievement are you most proud of during your 10 years with BID?
Swansea BID was the first Business Improvement District established in Wales and I am proud that it has very much been a pathfinder. In 2012/13 we worked with Welsh Government to look further into the BIDs concept we had led on in Wales since 2006, when we piloted BID in Swansea. The following year Welsh Government provided funding for conducting feasibility studies to start a BID. We now have around 13 operational BIDs, and more in the pipeline, as a result of our pioneering efforts here in Swansea. I am also proud that Swansea BID has created an entirely new business sector in Wales that has created new jobs, invests millions of pounds and has grown to 4,000 businesses/organisations.
During my tenure, Swansea BID has secured two renewal ballots from hundreds of businesses and organisations, which has given us a strong mandate. We obtained and maintain the industry national accreditation, based on our management and performance, which places us in the top 20 percent of BIDs. The UK now has around 300 BIDs, thousands of employees and a £365m turnover. We play an important role in the unfolding regeneration of Swansea City Centre. We know the needs of our businesses and we ensure these needs are communicated clearly so they are considered when key decision are being made about the shape of Swansea’s future.
What has been the biggest challenge in these 10 years?
Since 2009 I have seen the economy change locally, regionally and nationally. BID is like any other business in having to adapt to the changes and challenges that are presented whilst delivering its operations and its strategic vision, as a driving force to make the BID area a better place to shop, stay, study, visit and do business. It is also a challenge to combat the slow drip of negativity that comes from some quarters, which can be a stumbling block to vital inward investment. This attitude can dampen the mood and expectations of our BID area businesses. We do need to remember that as a BID, as businesses, local authority, media organisations, and other stakeholders, we might have differing agendas, but we should also have a common goal – to support Swansea to be as successful as it can be.
From an operational point of view we are always looking to do more. But, just like other businesses and sectors we have our own financial challenges that can hinder growth, so how do we do more with less is a challenge too. We are overcoming this by savvy partnership working.
Sometimes it is a challenge for us to make sure our BID businesses are engaging with us in a way that benefits them. Clearly, they are all working hard to ensure their businesses thrive and to plan for the future. Engaging with BID isn’t always their main priority. But, it is clear that the businesses which engage with us get the most out of being part of our campaigns, promotion and activities – like Independents Month, Best Bar None and our Big Heart of Swansea promotions during Halloween, Easter and Christmas. We are keen to encourage our BID area businesses to plug into the exposure we can offer via the BID and Big Heart websites, our social media platforms and other avenues.
What are some of your favourite spots in Swansea City Centre?
I enjoy visiting the Glynn Vivian, The Alex Reading Room, Waterstones and the National Waterfront Museum. I have always liked and enjoyed the No Sign Wine Bar which has loads of history, atmosphere, good food and a traditional feel. Working in the City Centre can be a personal challenge, as it’s easy to spend more time than I should in Stephen Hughes, Moustache, Moda, Debenhams, Derricks etc! I like to drop into Salty Beards Barbers every now and then – they are a very friendly lot and it is a relaxing place to be.
What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
We are already seeing regeneration transforming the City Centre, and it is really pleasing to see those cranes in the sky. Pushing into 2020 we will really start to see things change shape. The growing positivity around the regeneration is noticeable among the BID area businesses and I hope this snowballs. We are certainly seeing businesses – particularly within food and beverage – investing in Swansea, and we’re seeing entrepreneurs making a choice to set up businesses here long-term, thanks to bodies like Creative Bubble, which BID part-funds with UWTSD. I’m sure this trend will continue as the City Centre’s innovation hub is established on The Kingsway, with incubation and co-working spaces for small businesses in tech and creative industries. 2020 sees us start our fourth ballot preparations for 2021 running parallel to our day-day operations.
What is the most important lesson you have learned during your time the helm of Swansea BID?
Listen more and talk less, have the confidence to make considered but bold decisions, be willing to learn from those around you, be yourself and be kind.
What changes will we see within BIDS as conditions shift for City Centres?
There are many region-wide challenges that I feel BIDs can take on more effectively by working together and by using our voices together to exert more influence across The Swansea Bay City Regions area. To this end, we are liaising with our neighbouring BIDs in Llanelli, Neath, Carmarthen and Port Talbot with a view to working together in a very concrete way, so our voice is more forceful and so we have added procurement power when it comes to securing business services for our members regionally. We expect to be able to make a more detailed announcement about this exciting new Swansea Bay Region BIDs development shortly.