The new Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Business Improvement District (BID) has a five year plan and £2 million budget to improve Hanley city centre.
BIDs were introduced in 2003 by the Labour government as a way for businesses to help improve the area due to lack of council funding.
The Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID involves 436 businesses in the area, who contribute a levy to the BID calculated by business rates. This money then goes to fund a number of different projects to help get people into the town.
Richard Buxton, 52, has just taken on the role of BID manager, and has a number of ideas and plans to improve the city. As well as being a small business owner at the Hippy Hippy Shake Company, he has also worked alongside Newcastle-under-Lyme BID and Hamelhampsted BID.
He said: “I was getting frustrated with the way the towns were going and the things businesses were coming up against. I wanted to get more involved, not just with events but trying to make more changes.
“This is my town and it was a bit of a no-brainer to come back and try and help here. It’s a five-year programme, so not everything will happen straight away but we have some great plans.
“The number one priority in any town is trying to get more people onto the high street. The internet is not going away anytime soon but I don’t think online shopping will last as long as people think.
“We’ve got to change the way people think about the town and that they’re not coming up just to do a bit of shopping, but we can sell the town as a place where you can have a great meal, a great coffee a great beer.”
From looking at what other cities have, and what Stoke-on-Trent could benefit from, Richard would love to see a “proper cheese shop” or a fish mongers as well as creative space like Manchester’s Affleck’s Palace.
He added: “There are empty spaces like British Home Stores, so someone needs to look at it and think of something creative to do. It could be great for pop-ups and creative markets or a mini golf course.
“People are coming out of university with amazing ideas and they just need the space to present it. We can also offer empty market stalls to independent makers on a one-off basis to get more people into the market.”
Hanley market already has a scheme where young people ages 18-25 can get 75% off their rent for the first four months to get their business off the ground.
Richard wants to make the town look more presentable to make the area more inviting. This may involve dealing with anti-social behaviour and graffiti, as well as looking more deeply into the homelessness situation.
He said: “We want to make businesses and people in the town feel safer, bearing in mind that police resources are stretched to the limit.”
As well as this, more events are going to be put on in the town. This gives people a reason to come into Hanley and discover what the area has to offer.
Richard said: “We are looking at doing a music and arts festival, because I want to take advantage of the fact we have an amazing music scene.
“I think what the guys at Your City are doing is great and I think we could make it an even bigger event in 2020, like SoundCity or Focus Wales.
“I think one of the big things today is sustainability and the use of plastics and I would like to incorporate all of these things.”
The £2 million budget “will have to be enough”, said Richard. “We have the budget and can look at other ways of bringing money in for certain projects like speaking to the arts council, and we hope the city council will help out with things where possible, and perhaps the bigger businesses will invest in some projects,” he said.
“We will be as inventive with the budget as we can. You don’t have to spend a lot on projects if you have the right creative people working on them. I think there are enough inventive people in the area to make that happen.”
By the end of the five-year plan, Richard hopes that local businesses will think that the programme has worked well and that the area is thriving. At the end of the five years, Richard can put himself forward to be re-elected as manager for a further five years.
He said: “We need more independents and variety, of course the bigger stores and chains are important, but the more variety we have with quirky businesses, the better it will do.”