Watford town centre has not been immune to the impact of COVID-19. Several months of lockdown meant consumers adjusted to working from home, became more comfortable with online shopping and increasingly nervous about going to town centres. Some retailers, cultural venues and food and drink establishments remained closed beyond lockdown. Some have closed their branches in Watford permanently, including the major retailers John Lewis and Debenhams.
The impact of these closures on the town, its residents, and the way people perceive the town cannot be underestimated and will undoubtedly provide challenges in the short to medium term. However, there are also businesses that have taken the opportunity to refurbish, and new businesses are opening.
Throughout this pandemic we have witnessed the spirit of Watford. It is an intangible which cannot be measured or seen, but it is certainly there. Over 1,500 people volunteered to help out vulnerable community members; the town’s businesses provided NHS workers with lunches, meals and refreshments as they worked flat out; and a raft of other goods and services to the third sector.
What the pandemic has shown – and something Watford people have known for a long time – is the town feels better and thrives when everyone pulls together, and that is the very essence of a BID.
“This year I was amazed that during these difficult times you were able to create, the same, or even, better, displays. We come into Watford on the bus from Chorleywood and it is really is a joy to be greeted by such an array of living colour. Thank you for the joy.”
Mrs C, Chorleywood September 2020
Throughout the pandemic the BID has continued to support local businesses and levy payers. During the first lockdown, we maintained a core staff and furloughed a small part of the team.
The core staff managed all communications with businesses, set up a designated COVID-19 webpage, and provided weekly e-updates. An online and brand presence was maintained with regular social media posts; sharing positive community stories, fun online quizzes, encouraging locals to support their high street where they can, and informative updates on COVID-19 guidelines.
We also worked with Watford Borough Council to ensure those businesses eligible for support received it.
We received a grant of £18,085 from the government, which we invested straight back into supporting the town, its businesses and on making sure consumers felt safe and comfortable coming back into Watford. This money paid for:
In May, Watford became the first town in Hertfordshire to have road closures put in place in the town centre. We funded 30 large flower displays to replace the fencing and cones being used to enforce parking restrictions. The road closures were extensive, so flowers ensured the town was bright and colourful, and did not look like a closed building site.
We also worked with Herts County Council, bus companies and taxi firms to ensure access in and out of the town centre was still possible.
During the November lockdown, the BID continued to support levy payers and promote the importance of visiting Watford, but in a COVID safe way. Hands / Space / Face lamppost banners were also created and installed.
© 2020. Watford Business Improvement District. All rights reserved.