Two years ago this summer Harry Collinson took the chair of the SCCTA to help keep businesses informed on all matters relating to Sunderland.
He says: “I didn’t want to be a part of something that just talks and has no action. I was determined to make a difference. To be honest I was really fed up of people complaining about what we didn’t have but didn’t focus on what we did have.’’
And one of the first issues to tackle was that of traffic wardens.
He explains: “Businesses were getting tickets when they tried to unload deliveries which was crazy – they needed to be able to do this without being persecuted.
“So after discussions with the council we created a livery badge for traders in the city centre. The Wear1City badge allowed traders to be able to unload and load from their vehicles for 20 minutes. It was a great win for businesses.’’ On the same traffic theme, SCCTA then looked at parking for shoppers.
“It took a year of meetings but we managed to negotiate Free after Three Thursday and Friday in Council owned car parks not to mention all day Saturday and Sundays.’’
But retail has not been the only focus, leisure has also benefited from SCCTA’s activities.
“It is as important to represent night time economy as it is daytime,’’ says Collinson. “Pubs and restaurants need help getting footfall too. One of our first events we helped bring to the area was the Coca Cola truck. This, with a few rides for the children, was a huge success. It brought 55,000 people to the centre; it was a sea of people full of families like it used to be; all secondary areas of independent tills were ringing.
“For every pound spent in a local independent shop 63p goes back in to that business, it’s a no brainer. We really need to get the message out about how far that pound goes in a
local business; growth, jobs, wages the list goes on.’’
SCCTA also played a role in setting up the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), which will invest £3.4m in the city centre over the next five years. The BID will also give businesses the chance to capitalise on the estimated £130m of planned new city centre developments by the City Council and its partners.
Last July Sunderland businesses voted to set up a BID, to be funded by a 1.5% levy on business rates to pay for a range of improvement initiatives. The aim of the BID is to promote and improve facilities in Sunderland city centre to make it a more attractive, safer place with events and activities designed to bring in visitors and families. The BID board – on which Collinson also sits – is responsible for ensuring projects are delivered on time and within budget.
“It took 18 months of developing the BID, steering groups and lots of hard work up and down the country and Sunderland achieved the quickest BID in history,’’ says Collinson. “We set up workshops and listened to what the businesses wanted and we plan to hit the ground running in April.
“I want people to realise that the BID is private sector led so we can think and react quicker. Sunderland is one of the safest cities in the country and businesses want better signage, events, cameras and police presence.
“I am keen to point out the BID isn’t going to fix everything but it’s a fantastic start and step in the right direction.
“We are already working on Christmas, we want to light up the city and so much hard work goes on behind the scenes. We need to shout about what we do have.
“I have been in business myself now for 22 years, nobody gave me any help, there wasn’t things like the BIC or the university back in the day. But there is so much available to businesses and there is so much more Sunderland can offer.
“We need to share information on what we do have to offer within the city centre and we want people to venture back into the city to come and experience what the independents have to offer – cafes, coffee shops not to mention the music scene which is bigger and busier than ever.’’
“Come and explore the city – not just The Bridges but the secondary locations.”