Maria Manion, Chief Executive of Watford BID Ltd explained their vital role in the local area and the key ways they work to engage and support businesses as well as those in the community.
Meet Watford BID
Watford BID represents over 350 businesses in the town centre, supporting Watford’s culturally diverse population of 90,000. Their ongoing work has successfully supported businesses and their employees, while developing a sense of community in Watford.
Maria explained: “The bid was formed in 2016 as the businesses wanted it and they drove forward for this. They knew they had to work together and only by working together and with people like the council and police, they could make some quite significant changes in Watford.”
Supporting local businesses
Supporting local businesses is at the heart of everything that the team at Watford BID does.
“Supporting local businesses is very important to us, because we view town centres not just as economic ventures, but as the social heart of our local communities. Our town centre reflects how well our local communities are doing, providing local services as well as playing a social and economic role in the community. The investment that has been put into the town centre has been from the public and private sector. It has made such a difference, as this has been the catalyst.”
Coming up with successful initiatives
Watford BID has designed countless initiatives which have shown creativity to bring local businesses together, promote key messages and improve the business district as a whole.
“We have some very creative thinkers in our office. We’re quite a creative team and bounce ideas off each other a lot. We rely on being around each other to do this, so with COVID, we had to work through this as a team. We’re quite happy to take ideas that are working elsewhere, looking for best practice and finding ways that it could work for us. Not everything that is successful in one town will be successful here, so it’s about knowing your town and what is appropriate for it. I have four very good members of staff and without them, we wouldn’t have the creativity, drive and commitment we need to actually deliver our ideas.”
Watford Business Improvement District has created key events throughout the year, focusing on specific themes.
Watford BID ran a range of activities, events and offers to encourage people throughout the town to be more active and dedicate time to their mental wellbeing. Offering a range of free workout classes, an outdoor exercise event and a competition between local businesses to see which organisation could accumulate the most steps, it got everybody in the town talking.
“The wellness week was good because we realised how competitive our businesses are and the people in these businesses. Everyone wanted to win the steps challenge and it was great to see that and have that feeling in the town.”
Another important event designed by Watford BID is their sustainability week, working to ensure as many people and businesses as possible have awareness of the funding and opportunities available to them.
“For sustainability week, we encouraged as many businesses as possible to go on sustainability training courses. The goal was to make sure they were able to access all the funding before it went. This is why we had the grant day and why we have a booklet that goes out to businesses and lists the grants available, as well as the organisations that can offer support to businesses. The majority of businesses don’t only take electronic information, so going in and speaking with them is just as important.”
Making Watford accessible
Watford BID has made sure Watford is as accessible as possible for both shoppers and those that have their own businesses.
“We have a very diverse population with a very mixed business base, so we spend a lot of time speaking individually with businesses and have relationships with multinational businesses as well as independents. Some people might not understand how to fill something in, or English might not be their first language, but we provide the assistance they need, so they have the same access and opportunities as everybody else. While retail is an important part of a town, it’s also about the whole experience of a town. We have made it easy for people to enjoy and navigate the town centre, for example, pedestrianising areas in a level access sort of way, so children, families and those with limited mobility can make the most of it.”
Highlights of the past year
Maria spoke about some of her favourite moments from the past year.
Bringing people together
“From the perspective of getting people in town, the Christmas light switch-ons are always good, as you see so many people having a lovely time.”
“We managed to get out businesses back together after the impact of COVID and the uncertainty that accompanied it. After they had to shut and open so many times, there had been significant trauma throughout the changes and even after furlough. People hadn’t seen anyone, so we organised a black-tie event to get people back together. With more than 350 people attending, the feedback was amazing. Everyone loved being around each other again and it was nice for some people to let their hair down as everything had been so restricted. The resilience of staff was really celebrated and we’ve encouraged this throughout.”
Linking businesses and consumers
“Our gift card is about promoting people spending and staying in the town. We didn’t just want it to be for retail spend, so it’s also got the restaurants, bars, nightclubs on there and we’re trying to get some transport options on there too. The idea is that you could only need one card there for a whole day or night out and it’s getting there. We had to go out and get people signed up and now have a digital version of it which is also helping. A lot of businesses are moving from the swipe function to a more digital process. It’s about the ways consumers and businesses are changing and that’s what the BID tries to help people to do – working with both the businesses and consumers.”
Winning the Good Retail Awards
Maria spoke about what Watford BID’s success at the Good Retail Awards means, not just to her team, but to the wider community too.
“For us, it’s a recognition that as a town, we are a good town. People work together and it’s not just an award for us, but for the whole town and celebrating that Watford is an amazing place. We have amazing open spaces, a large shopping centre, a long high street with a variety of businesses and we’re unusual in the fact that we have a cinema and bowling, Puttshack, a range of bars and so much more in the town centre, as well as having a range of transport options to get there. The one thing about Watford is it is well connected and you can bring a family and you just feel comfortable walking down the high street.
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.