Our new Head of Place, Rebecca Handley, reflects on the importance of building strong local partnerships to make destinations a success.
With over 11 years of experience working for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the UK, Rebecca Handley was a clear fit as Head of Place for both Knightsbridge and King’s Road Partnerships. Now in the post, she reflects on their work to date, and what’s to come for 2023 onwards. Having joined from Southampton BID as Operations Director, she cites, ‘getting the basics and the environment right’ as crucial methods to attract more visitors to a place and raise the profile of the location.
‘Liaising with key stakeholders to make sure the business voice is heard and recognised is very important to enhancing our places. We’re building strong working relationships with our strategic partners, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster City Council, and the Metropolitan Police. This helps us maximise the value of services that are delivered to benefit the community.
‘It’s also about making improvements to the area. BIDs always bring additionality to a location, which involves looking at what the baseline provision for our partners is and saying ‘actually, we want to see a higher quality of standards and services’.
‘That is why we are looking at the current position, identifying opportunities to enhance the place and working with partners to try and achieve this. It’s important in my role that partnerships are strong because we’re looking at shared spaces and need to ensure everyone involved is aligned.’
As Head of Place, Rebecca is committed to addressing the needs of landlords and landowners, members and residents as partners in the development and improvement of the area.
‘I’m the person responsible for the physical environment: security, cleaning, public realm, and transport access. For King’s Road, I’m responsible for the quality environment pillar of our strategy. For Knightsbridge, my responsibility is for driving transformational change. Some of these schemes are naturally going to take time, but there are some quick wins where we’ve been work with our partners to make an immediate difference.’
She continues: ‘We’re creating a pleasant experience for residents, workers and visitors and making sure that the quality of the environment reflects the experience.’
This year will be the first Christmas supported by the Knightsbridge and King’s Road Partnerships:
‘I’m particularly proud of our work leading towards Christmas. We’ve obviously helped enhance Christmas lighting for both King’s Road and Knightsbridge. We’re getting the first Christmas lights for Knightsbridge. In the King’s Road, we were able to extend the schemes that have been in place previously, all the way down to the west end. These visible changes really enhance the area.’
Alongside additions to the Christmas feel of the area, the BIDs have also supported complex and significant improvements to the locality.
‘I think the biggest focus for me at the moment is looking at waste management and cleansing. The relationships we’ve been able to establish with our other partners, especially across the two local authorities, to develop joint-working approaches have been a really positive start.
‘We are behaving like we’ve been around for a lot longer because of the expertise we have access to and our connections locally. This means that people already understand the place really well and we can have been able to hit the ground running and make a difference.
‘One example of this is that we introduced our Street Team from the beginning of the BIDs and that’s provided additional resilience to our business community. There’s a real opportunity for those quick wins to make a positive experience for people that are living and working here.’
Knightsbridge and King’s Road areas have recently benefitted from new air quality monitors along Brompton Road, moveable public realm CCTV cameras, and an audit from a qualified heritage planning consultant to develop an action plan revitalising heritage assets and highlighting the rich history of the Brompton Road.
‘The advantage of a Business Improvement District is that it’s flexible to respond to the changing environment and actually make sure that our businesses have the best environment to have a viable business and trade effectively.
‘Ultimately, a destination may not serve every customer. It’s about identifying opportunities to amplify messages and making a statement that we want to celebrate all of the wonderful businesses we have in our districts. For Knightsbridge, this means trying to grow the international market. For King’s Road, there’s a rare opportunity to celebrate the heritage and make the area a real tourist attraction. We’ve got a really wonderful mix of tenants and businesses with a lot of character to showcase.’
Reflecting on the political changes in recent months poses the question of the potential impact that the work of the BIDs could have, but Rebecca feels a strong, loyal catchment, and supporting customer base has withstood the challenges being faced across the UK. Recent statistics from Transport for London (TfL) indicate that transport into areas such as Knightsbridge has now exceeded numbers at the same pre-Christmas period in 2019.
‘We’re always looking at opportunities to grow, the experience of people when they visit, and ensuring they have positive perceptions of the city and want to return. Ultimately, we want to influence and lobby to make sure our businesses’ voices are heard when key decisions are happening. Obviously, tax-free shopping, a campaign we’ve been actively involved in supporting is one example of making sure that business is at the forefront of the decisions we make and influencing other parties.’
‘We’re obviously early days in terms of the BIDs’ set-up here, but what’s been really evident since I’ve been here is the passion and the ambition of our board, which has residential, landlord, and business representation on it, along with the local authorities.’
With just two weeks’ until Christmas and the new year, 2023 is set to be a bold and exciting year for the team.