Sheffield BID CEO Diane Jarvis said that it was a “brave” decision for the steel city to vote to become part of the Business Improvement District scheme back in 2015 – in 2021 it’s an “essential” one. unLTD’s Mike Durham had a chat to find out more

When the first national lockdown hit back in March, Sheffield BID was near the end of its term, funding had stopped, and the ballot papers were days away from being mailed for the scheme’s renewal vote.

Suddenly Sheffield’s BID had been automatically extended until the delayed ballot in February, and the team were left wondering where to go from there.

Thankfully Diane, who has a certain affinity with the city that could only come from leading the marketing for projects like Renaissance South Yorkshire which injected £1.6bn into the region’s infrastructure, was more than ready for the challenge.

Diane said: “At one point I had more than 300 enquiries on my desk from businesses not sure where to go, or who to speak to. We were a point of contact for businesses confused about grants, so had a role to signpost relevant support packages and look at what we could do to help.”

For those less familiar with BID, or Business Improvement District, these are designated areas in which businesses (BID Levy Payers) benefit from a broad range of services which are additional or enhancements to the statutory provision from the Local Authority.

There are over 300 BIDs operating in the UK which are committed to working together with their communities to ensure that the BID area continues to progress whilst providing the best possible trading and working environment.

Sheffield BID is delivered through a partnership of more than 500 UK and independent businesses across almost 250 streets, and carries out services that help the city centre thrive.

BID works closely with a number of public agencies, from the Local Authority to South Yorkshire Police, as well as consulting with businesses, to give them a unique level of insight which no other organisation is equipped with.

This was made clear over lockdown, when Sheffield BID introduced a security team seven nights a week to keep watch on businesses, which Diane (pictured) hopes will become a permanent addition.

Diane added: “Over the years there have been many ups and downs, and I think that’s the nature of the beast in place management. Towns and cities are facing so many challenges, particularly around the high street, and the need to continuously evolve has been a constant learning journey. Let’s not forget we’ve invested more than £4m into shaping the city centre over the past five years, and we’ve leveraged over an additional £1m worth of match funding.

“In the beginning it took us a little while to find our feet – we started out as an investment fund procuring services, sponsoring new events and enhancing existing ones. What we’ve become over the last few years is a credible delivery body, with a consistent pipeline of projects that improve and animate the city centre.”

Having listened to some of Sheffield BID’s achievements, such as the introduction of free Wi-fi across the centre, it’s hard to argue with the success.

BID has also brought in more than 260,000 people into the area through a variety of trails for visitors to follow, with Diane’s personal favourite being Bricktropolis; an annual tour of enormous Lego dioramas.

Last year, the Bricktropolis theme was Outer Space to celebrate 50 years since the moon landing, which included a 2.8m tall Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket made up of 68,583 bricks.

“Bricktropolis inspired a city. You could see from social media, the press and the comments we were getting from businesses and the public that people felt really engaged.

“We’ve always had this conundrum of how do you measure vibrancy in the city centre. Yes, we’ve got data that says what the footfall was, we can do some formula calculations that suggest what the economic impact was, but how do you really know?

“When you walked around the city centre during Bricktropolis there was a real buzz. You could see people scurrying everywhere with maps – for me that’s how you measure vibrancy.”

Diane is also very proud of BID’s partnership with Cathedral Archer Project’s social enterprise, JustWorks, which assists people who were once living on the streets or been a victim of substance abuse back into meaningful employment.

These individuals become part of the cleaning team, which works to keep the city centre a pleasant, sanitary environment.
Diane added: “They really are an inspiration. They have gone on to overcome these challenges in their lives, and they are an asset to the BID team.

“It’s a privilege to be part of their recovery journey, and for me that is far better than paying a third-party cleaning company. It’s addressing a need for businesses by combatting cleaning and environmental issues, but in an innovative way.”

Of course, for these successes to continue, Sheffield BID needs the support of both local and national businesses in the upcoming postal ballot, which is to be held between 29 January and 25 February – with a majority BID can carry on for another five-year term.

Sheffield BID is primarily funded through a 1% annual levy on Sheffield city centre properties with a rateable value of £40,000 or more.
As businesses are currently facing significant financial pressures in the pandemic, Sheffield BID have dropped this to 0.5% for the first year, with a delayed payment of three months from the start of the term.

“There are some very real challenges facing the high street right now – encouraging people to buy local and to use local services to support the high street is a role for all of us. I think it’s vital Sheffield BID is here to expand on the work that has already been done.

“There are no other organisations equipped to do what we do in the way we do it, and having a BID enables events and projects which simply won’t happen if we’re not here. As a city we need to take a step forward, and not a step back.”

For more information about Sheffield BID, go to: www.sheffieldbid.com.