Business Improvement Districts: Gatherings and Huddles

As I have written before, in reading this post you have to remember that I am a Board Member of BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) Scotland and thus believe they have a role to play in Scotland and in Scotland’s town centres.

We had an attempt to have an Annual BIDs Gathering (existing and developing BIDS in Scotland) in November. When I woke up that morning to travel to Perth I had water coming into the bedroom via the light socket and a red warning from the Met Office about any travel in Scotland. Eight people apparently made it to the Perth Concert Hall and have formed a support group to get over the travel experiences they suffered.

So we tried again today, with rather more success. Over 100 people from across Scotland made is safely to Perth on a glorious morning to discuss potentials and issues with existing and developing BIDs (in total there are about 50 in Scotland). With distinctive Scottish legislation and the development of a strong Scottish based expertise in managing the process and operations of BIDs, there is much to debate, to learn from and to celebrate.

And celebration of the success and the strong foundations for BIDs in Scotland was the theme of the Ministerial Address provided by Derek Mackay (@DerekMackayMSP). In positioning BIDS in the light of the Town Centre Action Plan and the Fraser Review, the Minister challenged BIDS to unlock their potential, expand the numbers more quickly and to act more strongly as advocates for local communities. He laid out the steps the Government were taking in responding to the Fraser Review and in the Community Empowerment Bill and other new ideas and schemes. There are strong BIDS foundations in Scotland and now is the time, he stated, to really build on them.

Following the Ministerial Address and the Q&A he always encourages and responds to, the Gathering heard from three presentations and discussed ideas for BIDs operationally.

First up were Sophie Fraser from Scotland Food and Drink supported by a case study from Elgin BID by David Urquhart and Gill Neil. Sophie laid out the recent successes for Scotland’s Food and Drink and looked forward to 2015 the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland. She identified ways BIDs could tie in their events to food and drink themes and especially the Food and Drink Fortnight (6-21 September 2014: depending on the 18th drink could be needed by various parties). She focused on partnerships, synergies and provenance as well as the role of social media. David and Gill then went through their experiences in developing food and drink as themes in Elgin and the operational issues that are needed to be overcome. A lively Q&A shared more learnings and ideas.

The opening remarks of the second themed presentation were ripe for comedy. Colm Moloney confessed that he had spent £1m digging a big hole in Edinburgh only for someone to spend £450m filling it in with a Parliament building. Colm, from Rubicon Heritage did the archeology dig ahead of the Parliament and pondered why so little of what he learned was used for visitors. Together with Joe Pacitti of Black Light they showed what could be done  to the Parliament building using archeo-illumination – essentially using light, visualisation and other disruptive technologies to tell stories about the histories of places. David Keddie then showed the economic potential of “blowing people away with the impact of the past” and the potential  that so many places have in Scotland to tell a better story with sound, light and interaction. Again much discussion followed.

The final session saw Iain Scott from Scotpreneur lay down a challenge for BIDS. In March/April of this year Iain is launching, with Scottish Government support, a Town Innovation Challenge. Open to Development Trusts, BIDS (existing and developing) and “huddles” (collections of people who come together with an innovation idea for a place or building or whatever) the Challenge is “not interested in what people want to do, as much as why people want to do exactly what they want to do”. By getting people to explore ideas, get feedback, self-support and bring ideas, thoughts and resources to the discussion, the aim is break through the standard form-filling, procurement, bid for the set amount allowed by the tender approach to break barriers down and create a new narrative for innovation in towns and by people, focused on generating interest and footfall. The audience took a while to warm to the idea of not completing forms in triplicate, but did before the end begin to explore the potential of thinking differently and creatively. Iain will be launching the Challenge in the next couple of months so “watch this space”.

So, second time lucky in Perth for the Gathering. From the Minister onwards the real sense of making a change in places and using BIDs as a mechanism for innovation and community engagement shone through. We have a very sound base and great experience and expertise in Scotland and it is vital that as we develop the BIDs model to meet the challenges, we don’t lose the head start on the rest of the UK that we have, and that we build on these strong foundations. A good day and certainly better then watching water coming through a ceiling.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Internationalisation and Graduate Studies.
This entry was posted in BIDS, Entrepreneurship, Festivals, Food Retailing, Food Tourism, Heritage, Innovation, Markets, Places, Scotland Food and Drink, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Town Centre Review, Town Centres and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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