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Members of the Horsham BID Task Group include Willie Hamilton, India De Silva Jeffries, Rachel Noel, Dominic Wakefield, Gill Buchanan  and Ben Hewson (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published 1st February 2024

Businesses in the town centre recently voted in favour of becoming a Business Improvement District (BID).  

Horsham BID has produced a strategic business plan that aims to improve life for those working in or visiting the town. AAH met Rachel Noel (BID Manager) and members of the BID Task Group including India De Silva Jeffries (Chair of the BID Task Group/ Brod + Wolf), Gill Buchanan (Centre Manager, Swan Walk), Willie Hamilton (Wakefield’s Jewellers), Paul Davies (At Home Estate and Lettings Agency) and Ben Hewson (The Bear/Horsham Business Initiative) to find out more… 

Gill: I have worked in Horsham for about 30 years and for most of that time, there have been collective business initiatives in the town. Horsham Unlimited, for example, had benefits in that it established lines of communication with the Council and represented the views of the business community. However, without proper funding or any constitutional authority, such groups have ultimately been unsustainable. That is why we identified BID as the ideal vehicle for us to move forward. 

Rachel: There are about 320 BIDs across the UK and they’re all different. Some are established in towns such as Guildford, Worthing and Dorking, while others operate in villages or industrial estates, including a highly successful BID at Manor Royal, Crawley. Each BID is bespoke, representing the needs of the businesses in its own area, identifying opportunities and addressing challenges. 

Willie: BIDs are unique, as they are funded entirely by businesses within the area they serve. Each business pays a levy which, in Horsham’s case,  equates to 1.5% of their business rates, although a threshold does exempt some smaller units. For some businesses, the levy equates to less than £1000 a year, while major retailers such as John Lewis and Sainsbury’s contribute more. There may have been a bit of apathy when we first started talking about a BID, as some wondered if it was something that an affluent town like Horsham needed. But when you start looking at the many ways in which a BID can create a better experience for businesses, staff and visitors, the benefits are clear.  

Rachel: A BID can only be established with support from local businesses. We held a confidential postal vote, conducted by the Returning Officer at Horsham District Council (HDC) and for the BID to progress, more than 50% of businesses had to vote in its favour. We had a positive result with 77% voting ‘yes’. A second condition is that of all the businesses that vote, the ‘yes’ votes must represent more than 50% of the total rateable value of votes cast, which prevents larger businesses being obliged to fund a BID they vote against. This was achieved with 53% of the vote. Now, the BID becomes law and businesses are required to contribute financially through the annual levy. This includes HDC, with Council-owned buildings and car parks within the boundary.  

Ben: The BID covers what you would constitute as the town centre. It includes West Street and the Bishopric (as far as and not including, the King’s Arms), then loops around John Lewis, the new Aldi, Sainsbury’s, the Forum and the library. It excludes the Causeway and the majority of Denne Road, which are predominantly residential, but includes Market Square and East Street. Albion Way forms the northern boundary, with Piries Place, Carfax and Swan Walk included in the BID. It doesn’t extend to London Road, Springfield Road or Queen’s. 

Rachel: I will coordinate the BID as currently the only paid member of the team. My job is to understand the needs and expectations of local businesses in order to refine and implement the business plan that will cover the initial five years of the BID. I will be supported by a Task Group which will become the initial BID Board, and includes voluntary representatives of local pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, jewellers, estate agents and insurance companies, as well as Horsham District Council. The Board will meet regularly to discuss progress and identify issues that can be included in our business plan. After five years, another vote will be held to decide if businesses wish to continue the BID.  

Ben: This is not an easy time for small businesses. Some are now being asked to contribute to the BID, even though they might have voted against it, and understandably they want to know what they’re getting for their money. Even if they’re paying a relatively small levy, they still need to know it’s being well spent and will benefit them directly. We have worked hard over a long period of time to come up with a range of projects and initiatives that we hope deliver something for everyone. 

India: Over the next five years, Horsham BID will generate about £1.5million and our business plan allocates funds accordingly. These include initiatives to reduce antisocial behaviour, improve signage and branding, create better Christmas lighting displays and launch parking incentives. Traditionally, Horsham has tended to have a daytime and night-time economy that are not mutually beneficial. We have an opportunity to improve that too. Being in the hospitality industry, I would like to see more events that will draw more people into my café in the Carfax, but we need to ensure that we organise events across a wider range of town centre locations, benefitting more of the BID businesses.  

Paul: As the owner of a local estate and lettings agency, it’s in my interest to ensure Horsham continues to be an attractive destination. That’s why I was so keen to get involved and join the Task Group. I always loved the ‘headline’ events the Council organised, like Piazza Italia, as they brought thousands of people into the centre and contributed to Horsham’s excellent reputation as a destination town. I think many of those visiting from further afield stay to eat at a restaurant or visit the theatre, so it’s encouraging to see Horsham BID develop an events strategy. However, that is just one of the objectives in our business plan.  

Gill: We acknowledge that some businesses in the BID that don’t have shop fronts. There are offices that don’t benefit from having cars in the Carfax or live music on the Bandstand. For them, it might be more important that the streets are well lit to ensure staff can travel to and from work safely. Other BIDs have introduced ‘ambassadors’ or ‘rangers’ that operate in the area, fulfilling customer service roles or acting as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour, liaising with the police and community wardens. This is something else we are already considering. 

Rachel: One thing a BID cannot do is replace services already provided by local authorities. However, it can complement them. For example, if the Council cleans the streets four days a week but there’s a feeling that this needs to be increased, a BID can cover costs for the other two days. We could potentially also investigate ways to save businesses money on energy costs, advertising, insurance and trade waste through group purchasing. 

Willie: Another benefit is that businesses once again have a voice within the community. If the Council is considering making changes to infrastructure in the town centre, or are implementing traffic restrictions, they can communicate that information through BID and we can provide feedback from our members.  

Rachel: We will publish a newsletter that has contact details for Horsham BID. We already have a database of email addresses and phone numbers but we hope more people will get involved too. Further down the line, we expect to establish smaller working groups to deliver various projects and will need the business community to come together to succeed. There are many ways in which people can help.

Gill: Whatever levy a business pays, we hope they will feel it is money well spent. If they pay £200 a year, our aim is to ensure they get more than that back in return. This value might come through social media posts promoting them, savings made on waste collections due to joint contracts, extra business created from events organised by the BID, or even additional footfall created by improved Christmas displays which we hope to implement. 

India: Horsham is a beautiful town but there are always ways we could make it even better. There is a supportive network of businesses here in the town and we feel that now is the right time to take it to the next level.

WORDS: Ben Morris / PHOTOS: Alan Wright 

Further information: Email Rachel Noel, BID Manager, at rachel@horshambid.org or visit www.horshambid.org