By Russell Greenslade, Chief Executive of Swansea Business Improvement District
We were interested to read this thoughtful article about Linkedin’s partnership with Grimbsy – dubbed one of the UK’s ‘left-behind’ seaside towns.
One of the stand-out points, to us, was this: ‘something profound happens when a town feels it is being subjected to persistently negative headlines and sneering comments: it becomes more inward-looking, feels isolated and ultimately loses confidence.’
Swansea has been subject to this kind of negativity over the years, but it is an attitude that belongs firmly in the past. Linkedin’s work with Grimsby focused upon marshalling the Linkedin community and network to help local people tap into the jobs market and to empower job-seekers to grow their confidence and their ambition. There was also work to do in making sure positive Grimsby news, notably its renaissance due to offshore wind, was being shared and heard.
Swansea is, by no means a ‘left-behind town’. The ongoing regeneration, via the £1.3bn Swansea Bay City Deal, is set to boost the regional economy by £1.8bn and generate almost 10,000 new, high-quality jobs. The fresh optimism, growth, and concrete investment being seen in our City Centre is impossible to miss – the cranes in the sky and the earth moving equipment on sites tell the story.
Swansea BID has been an early adopter of the concept of bringing more residential and office space into the City Centre in order to service the retail offering. We are seeing this unfolding with residential and office developments and planned developments in Orchard Place, Princess Way and Lower Oxford Street. We have also been ardent supporters of the concept of boosting opportunities for visitors to enjoy experiences within the City Centre, rather than simply expecting people to come in to shop.
Gyms, golfing experiences, art spaces, and popular food and drink outlets are slipping into spaces alongside retail – helping to create a more balanced City Centre, and one that keeps visitors here for longer. Meanwhile, savvy retailers have long been alert to the fact that if you create a destination and an experience, rather than simply a selling-space, you will keep your customers happy and occupied for longer. Waterstones and Swansea Market are particularly good at this. The beauty boom is playing out very well for Swansea City Centre too, no doubt fuelled by the Instagram generation’s baffling obsession with eyebrows!
We all have our part to play in shaping our towns and cities for the future. One of the most important things we can do is to challenge negative narratives where we find them. Swansea BID is doing this by seeking out positive messages and stories from our BID area businesses – stories of young entrepreneurs, business investment, expansion and innovation – and shouting about them via our multiple channels; social media, digital communication, media relations, and word of mouth. These positive stories are by no means hard to find.
It has been interesting too, to see how vociferous our City Centre businesses themselves have become in rejecting negativity and reinforcing positive messages about the BID area. For example, High Street business owners are taking on the role of gatekeepers of the reputation of High Street – an area of the City Centre that had become synonymous with negativity in the past, but is now seeing sound investment, extra policing and new developments turn things around.
This approach, of local business becoming champions of their patch, is particularly important if some of the regional media is in the habit of re-visiting negative themes about an area, simply out of habit. If we continually talk an area down it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, not to mention being de-motivating for people who live and work there. BID Businesses in High Street have shown real ambition in investing in the area. And attracting continued investment is crucial for the success of the wider City Centre. BID has very much been behind this drive to shift the narrative and to forge a new, more positive one. It is in everyone’s interests to support the City Centre and to be part of the solution to any issues it has.
Of course, it is easy to fall into negativity when it comes to predicting the future. Remember when TV was going to sound the death knell of cinema? When Kindle was set to eradicate books? When robots were set to replace us all in the workplace? We human are a pessimistic lot. In reality, change involves both losses and gains, but we have much to look forward to here in Swansea City Centre. Let’s learn to be our own cheerleaders.