That Was The Bb Week That Was

W/C 6th April Communications RoundupEaster weekend, together with its Spring sunshine, hailed the end of the third week of lockdown. Just as we might have thought we were nearing the end, the weekend’s papers warned of 3 weeks or more still to come.

It was a week that reminded us that, despite some regional and inter-regional variations, COVID-19 does not discriminate and infects royalty and prime ministers as well as road sweepers and plumbers.

However, tempting the recent burst of sunshine, the majority of the UK population continued to adhere to the lockdown rules. Yet, this is the first time that a government has deliberately set about implementing measures which aim to reduce economic activity. Factories, shops, pubs and offices remain closed. Despite a monumental support package from government, the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggested that each month of lockdown would still cost the UK 30% of average GDP and £60 billion of lost output. The numbers are scary and explain the battle between those requiring an early easing of lockdown restrictions and those advocating even stricter measures.

Amongst the uncertainty, the BID industry waits. Firstly, to be asked to step up and aid the recovery phase when it comes. Secondly, to hear if government will put in place a Resilience Fund to enable it to survive largely intact. In an ongoing series of Q&A sessions, Bb heard of the incredible work that BIDs are undertaking across the UK to keep their areas safe, to protect premises and to promote those businesses that are able to operate. When each day is done, too many hard-working BID Managers and their Boards are left to worry that their income this year will be insufficient to keep up their good work.

Despite apparent gloom, the burst of sunshine over the past few days will have coincided with many in the industry beginning to think about life after lockdown. Prior to COVID-19, British BIDs had been at the forefront of discussions about the changing nature of places, particularly town and city centres and commercial areas. Life was always going to be different but we may now be heading for a ‘different kind of different’. Debenhams has already appointed administrators and liquidated its Irish chain; Carluccio’s seems like it may still be best remembered after its founding chef rather than its more recent owners from Dubai; Philip Green’s Topshop empire, already in a CVA, is rumoured to be considering not re-opening up to 25% of its stores. One thing that most places can say with some confidence is that the number of businesses that were closed by COVID-19 will exceed the number that will re-open, some of which will not re-occupy the same amount of floorspace again by leaving the upper floor vacant or closing down the second store in town.

An article by James Marriott in The Times reminded us that this period will prove to have been invaluable if it has served to make us think less about what has gone before and more about what will be. This period of inactivity allows the eye to wander beyond the normal swarm of people and towards the potential of each building, square and street. They allow the mind to think less about the consequences of the crowd and more about the potential beauty of the place in which they gathered. Once rethought, this place could be “somewhere”, not just “anywhere”.

During most crises, doom and gloom can be lifted by positive stories of hope. These offer a different perspective help us to think differently. After this emergency, we might be recalling the story of our local pub that trialled the home deliveries that went on to become their key point of difference; there will be the small independent retailer who found that selling other people’s stock was no near so much fun as making their own products and so moved from their shop to a small industrial unit; the employer that found that staff really could be trusted to work at home and that their future expansion plans relied more upon the development of new places for employees to live in town than upon extra floorspace for more desks; and, the factory that turned its hand to the production of health products and never returned to making widgets on a small-scale again.

So, we recommend that all of you take some time out in week 4 of lockdown to think about what type of place yours should emerge as once this is over. Take your lead from Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Batchelor of Arts, who said: “keep your face to the sunshine and you will not see a shadow.”

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