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The Big Rethink: Allison Herbert

Chief Executive, Bath BID

At the BID, we have been learning to adapt and support others to adapt their business model to the new constraints on the high street.

We have provided practical help with social distancing and hygiene measures – providing rainbow floor stickers, hand sanitiser and cleaning services and sharing all the best practice guidance so that the city is able to continue to welcome people.

We anticipate that these measures will stay around until we have a widely available vaccine. As the lockdown has been easing off, we have seen the footfall counts increasing steadily, but we are still a long way from last year’s figures and the city’s businesses need local support as they take their first steps towards recovery. Saturday 4 July was a good day for Milsom Street, and as the restaurants are opening again we anticipate an uplift in evening footfall. The reopening of the Roman Baths and the Holburne make up the final element for visitors to choose Bath for their day or weekend visit and we are working closely with Visit Bath to ensure that people are aware of all that Bath has to offer in these post-Covid times.

Changes in the road layouts will make it easier for pedestrians and we would hope that the utilitarian style will give way to more appealing street furniture with planters, seating and attractive bollards replacing the red and white plastic. There is an appetite in the city for a well-managed public realm which reflects the city’s role and reputation.

The high streets haves been evolving for a few years, and it would seem that the recent crisis has precipitated some of the changes and brought them to the attention of the public. Of those businesses which were struggling pre-Covid, many, unfortunately, won’t be able to survive, or will have to have a big rethink as to how they trade and we anticipate that the city will look different over the coming months.

Before Covid, online shopping was around 20 per cent of total retail sales, but during April and May that figure went up to over 30 per cent. That leaves a lot of shopping still being done in person, but our challenge is how to make it ‘easy’ for people and blend the offline and online presence of our shops. There is an opportunity to make it easier to buy the size and colour you want and have it delivered to your workplace, without losing the vibrancy of physical premises.

Places are becoming more focused on their social activity and what they offer in the way of a ‘lifestyle’, rather than just ‘things’. Successful retailers will earn a place in people’s hearts and become a part of their lifestyle. Brands which have engaged online with a personality during the Covid crisis are coming out of it successfully since reopening.

Places are becoming more focused on their social activity and what they offer in the way of a ‘lifestyle’, rather than just ‘things’

Bath can learn from this. We have a lot of advantages as a lifestyle destination offering culture, historical discovery, well-being, green spaces and nature as well as shopping and eating, and a shared communication of these assets will also be crucial to the city’s success.

Longer term, there is a need for the city to consider its community and its role as a hub for the region. Access to the city remains a challenge for employees of our levy payer businesses and this will intensify as we adapt to a cleaner, greener transport model. Alongside that, we are working with the business community and education bodies to understand how the city can evolve a wider range of employment opportunities for its citizens.

We have also had the chance to take stock and rediscover some of what’s around us – ‘live like a local and explore like a tourist’. Here at the BID we are hoping that this means that people will spend more of their money locally, and that people’s lives are a bit more community-focused, with the ‘hub’ of the community being the high street.


See some of our other Big Rethink commentaries: