Written by Frances Forrest, Bromley BID Manager.
When our BID community talks about engagement, we usually mean engagement with levy paying businesses. But today I want to talk about engagement with the residential community, something many BIDs are wary (and often for good reasons) of doing.
Firstly, why I think BIDs should engage with their residential community.
- Residents often have close links with levy payers, local politicians and other stakeholders, and can more influence than you might think.
- They are usually also shoppers and visitors in your BID area and will often be the most passionate champions of it.
- They (in particular ‘active citizens’ who are the leaders of local societies) have incredible local knowledge and can help new BIDs easily access local contacts to reach all kinds of community groups and organisations, many of whom will also be passionate about your BID area.
- They can often provide creative ideas for public realm improvements/events
- Residents have long term interests in the town centre’s success, and once they get what BIDS are and what their priorities are, many of them will be supportive.
Some words of caution:
- Selecting which person/organisation can be tricky unless there’s an obvious one with boundaries similar to those of your BID.
- Many residents’ /active citizens’ organisations – often with names like ‘Friends of…’ or Civic Amenity Societies, have a duty to their members to campaign, and often oppose change.
- They may not appreciate decisions made which are contrary to suggestions they have offered.
- Your willingness to engage could raise expectations that the BID could be won over to fight their battles alongside them.
Three ways to widen your BID’s engagement with the residential community spring to mind:
- a) meet occasionally with ward councillors for the ward(s) your BID covers – they are after all elected to represent the views of residents
- b) invite someone from the voluntary/community sector to advisory groups/committee or even board meetings as an observer only, and make it clear to that person that the BID’s interest is in their views and ideas on BID proposals.
- c) meet with representatives of the voluntary/community sector separately.
Meanwhile desk research into local groups, schools, faith groups and organisations (if you’re lucky the council will have a list on its website) can be helpful, as amongst these there will be people who would love to help publicise BID events and offers amongst their networks.
Finally, every BID needs to find its USP within its area and get on with delivering their business plan. So if who you’re engaging with it isn’t helping in that, think again and change it.