OPINION: We want Harrogate to be the friendliest town, to offer the ‘Disney effect’ - Matthew Chapman, Harrogate BID manager

The last two months have flown by. And in my opinion that can only be a good thing. It also feels like I’ve been in post for a lot longer than I actually have. Another positive. Since arriving as Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) Manager, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a host of different people - retailers, hoteliers, business owners & managers, and leading figures in both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 11:09 am

All have a vital role to play in the life of Harrogate town centre, and all have a vested interest in its success. I’ve also met the leaders of a number of town centre groups, and what comes across is the passion they have for Harrogate. They don’t want Harrogate to be like any other town. They want the ‘Harrogate offering’ to be unique, and a reason why people from all the country choose to return time after time.

I recently came in for some stick for saying I wanted Harrogate to have the ‘Disney effect’. And for those that have visited a Disney theme park you will know exactly what I mean. What I’m hoping to create through the BID is the ‘Harrogate effect’!

When people come into the town, I want them to experience something special, something that makes them say ‘wow’, be it the fantastic array of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, entertainment venues and our parks and gardens.

I also want Harrogate to be known as the ‘friendliest town’, where the customer experience is superb and one that exceeds all expectations. Ease of accessing the town, by car, on foot or bike, or via public transport, should is also a key ingredient.

One of the questions I frequently get asked is what is a BID and what does it do? In a nutshell, we are a not-for-profit organisation, funded by businesses to improve the area in which those businesses trade within. We are here to add ‘additionality’. For example, whilst we aren’t a local authority and our remit doesn’t include remedying the ‘Primark Puddle’ or fixing potholes in the road and replacing bulbs in streetlamps, we do on occasions take over from where they leave off. Two such examples are the recent power-washing of footpaths, and the increased number of stunning floral tributes seen all around the town centre.

BIDs operate on a five-year fixed-term basis, and we are exactly halfway through our first term. For this reason, we recently surveyed our levy payers asking them what was important to them, and also what they wanted from us.

Those who responded wanted what I would call the basics. They want Harrogate to be clean, safe, welcoming and attractive, and I can say we are delivering on all of these. They also want a vibrant Harrogate, which is something we are fully committed to achieving. And when it comes to the thorny issue of car parking, just under 40 per cent wanted cheaper charges at key times. A vast majority of businesses also wanted a regular visit from a dedicated BID staff member, something we are now in the process of introducing.

Over the last two months, I have felt the town really come alive. Last week, I visited the Great Yorkshire Show, and this week we have also been blessed by the return of The Home & Gift Fair, both attracting different audiences and both synonymous with Harrogate. Now is a really exciting time with the town bustling with excitement, and whilst supporting this in the here and now, the BID is planning for the next two-and-a-half years of its tenure.

An exciting trail starts at the end of next week, one that is designed to bring families into different parts of the town. We are always ready to partner with different organisations keen to offer residents and visitors plenty of reasons to come into town.

Our recently launched LoyalFree app has been well received by Levy payers, who are able to upload, for free, promotions and deals to attract customers. We are also able to promote different trails, from gems to gin and from ice cream to cream teas. Only this week, I had the pleasure of presenting a wonderful Weeton’s hamper to the winner of our first regular competition.

We have now relocated the BID office into a central location, and I always welcome a conversation with any organisation looking to work in collaboration with us for the good of the town.

For me personally, I’m living and breathing Harrogate each day of the week, and I love it!”