From watering the plants to advising on grant aid for local business it’s just an average week for our ‘town centre manager’

John Bownas is the Manager of Love Hastings the name that’s been given to Hastings Business Improvement District (BID).

John though tends to introduce himself as simply the ‘town centre manager’, he finds people understand that more easily as many just don’t know what BIDs are.

In a nutshell, as he frequently has to explain: “A BID is a area defined on a map, within which businesses have voted to pay a levy on their business rates to contribute to projects that make that area a better place. The council collects this money every year and passes it to us to fund the projects people ask us for. So we work with the council, but not for them,” says John

In Hastings the area covered by the BID – or by Love Hastings – stretches from the pier to the council offices and up to Morrisons. In total that includes about 450 business of all shapes and sizes. Between them they pay an average of around £350 per year which amounts to a total of just under £200,000 that can be spent to make Hastings ‘a better place’.

John Bownas, right, and Peter Rolfe, Business Ambassador

Last week, as life got back to normal in the town centre John decided to keep a diary of all that his ‘day-job’ entails – we think you’ll be surprised.

MONDAY:

7am bright and early and the town flower troughs get an early morning check, with the ones that feel a bit dry getting a bit of a water (about 150 litres as it turns out). This isn’t typical BID manager work, but we’re trying to get businesses to adopt troughs and look after them, so it’s a good idea to lead by example…

  • Start the normal day the usual way with responding to radio-check sign-ins from local shopwatch businesses. This used to be done by the now-disbanded council CCTV control room, but it’s a good way of staying in touch with local shops. There’s a lot more today than last week as it’s the first day for non-essential retail after the recent lockdown.
  • It’s also the first day back for the previously furloughed Business Ambassador, so a fair bit of time spent bringing him back up to speed with what has been happening and what we’ll be doing to support businesses over the coming week or so.
  • Met with and briefed the two-man security patrol who we’ve re-tasked from doing overnight business premises checks to look after the retailers over the coming weeks. 
  • Spent an hour or so walking the BID area with the Business Ambassador to see how businesses are getting on and who is opening. Printed off a set of ‘safe to open’ posters circulated by Government last week for those businesses who needed them and hadn’t printed them from the e-mail we’d sent round on Friday.
  • Managed to find half an hour to open post and check e-mails. Sent a lobbying letter to the council’s head of finance to try and get business grants for a few market traders who have so far missed out on funding.
  • Delivered some barriers to one of the food stalls who needed help with social distancing and controlling where their customers stood.
  • Checked in on Debenhams and found they hadn’t been sent sufficient signage from head office. Advised them on how to better manage flow of customers through the store and agreed to provide some signs quickly from a local supplier as it would take too long to get anything any other way.
  • Briefed signage supplier on requirements and signed off the order.
  • Big queue at Sports Direct and with no outdoor distancing markers there isn’t much social distancing evident at times.
  • Took a call from another grateful business I’d found last week who hadn’t realised they were eligible for a grant. That makes over £500,000 we’ve put in the pockets of local businesses who might have missed out on claiming money they were entitled to.
  • Agreed to chair the next online meeting of the Heritage Action Zone.
  • Spotted some youths selling fake perfume from carrier bags in the town centre. Approached two with the Business Ambassador and advised them if they were selling anything legitimate they needed a peddlars license and ought to pop up to the police station to get one.
  • Soon noticed a larger group of the same team so took a couple of photos as the loss of CCTV control meant they couldn’t be picked up on the town cameras. Unfortunately one of them spotted this and decided to issue threats. Walked away and called it in to the local police for a car to be sent down – group of youths last seen rapidly leaving the area.
  • Made some enquiries with local suppliers to find a way of quickly getting some ‘Covid-Safe’ t-shirts printed for local shops if they want them.
  • E-mailed the council and police to get formal agreement to keep the security patrols operating during the daytime. They were both happy for the change as it will give a lot of reassurance to businesses.
  • Responded to a request for a local hearing service organisation to bring a promotional bus into town next month.
  • Found a few more local businesses who may want to get involved in a film project being put together to promote independent traders on July 4th.
  • Received intelligence from a driver on the taxi rank that local street drinkers and shoplifters were gaining access to an area behind an empty office. Checked the location and found damaged hoardings. Luckily managed to find one of the building management team doing an inspection of another part of the site and advised them to get it repaired.
  • Great to find two new businesses opening today who have set themselves up during lockdown and are confident about the future. Discussed Shopwatch membership with both and will go back later with paperwork and a radio each.
  • Made enquiries to East Sussex County Council (ESCC) trading standards about whether they will enforce against any business not displaying the posters as it turned out almost none had put them up in the end. Enquiry passed to borough council environmental health for a reply tomorrow.
  • Responded to an incident call on the radio from Sainsbury’s where the manager had been spat at and bitten by a known street drinker. Tracked the suspect to another part of town with assistance from the Business Ambassador and the security response patrol team. Helped by information from other shopwatch members on the radio who had seen him in the area. Business Ambassador co-ordinated with 999 call-handler to lead the police to the suspect and have him arrested safely. Went back to check on store manager and found where he could quickly get a tetanus shot at a nearby health centre.

6pm, and time to call it a day.

TUESDAY

Another 7am start and today it starts with spraying 2m markings on the pavement outside Sports Direct in case of more long queues – then a spot more urban gardening to keep the flower troughs looking good. Also planted out an empty container I spotted the other day outside Pissaros bar to bring a bit of colour to the corner.

  • 8am phone meeting with council’s head of economic regeneration to debate what they might use their £82,000 government ‘safe return to the high streets fund’ money on. Reached agreement that the restrictions placed by the government on what it could be used for make it hard to allocate to anything meaningful – but we will keep looking for new and worthwhile ideas.
  • Messaged all the market traders who might be eligible for additional grant funding to encourage them to complete the application form.
  • Agreed the extension of the rental agreement on one of the market pitches and discussed their possible future move to a shop unit in town.
  • Intelligence received from a shop security guard about possible drug dealing in a flat nearby. Info passed to police by Business Ambassador through usual contact.
  • Found the owners of one of the few remaining properties in the town that hasn’t yet applied for business grant funding – hopefully they will see £25,000 coming their way soon.
  • Good news received from local police inspector that a prolific local shoplifter has received 20 months for burgling a flat in a retirement block. His conviction followed his identification from CCTV by several members of Shopwatch in the town.
  • Sent a set of photos and accompanying text to British Bids who are looking for good examples of what Business Improvement Districts around the country have been doing during lockdown.
  • Exchanged a set of e-mails with the council’s head of finance to try and get grant funding criteria adjusted for a few known cases where businesses are struggling.
  • Attended fortnightly police intelligence briefing at the police station – the first time in a few months I’ve been there in person rather than on a conference call. Tried to get identities of a few unknown suspects caught writing graffiti or shoplifting. Received info on two wanted suspects for circulation to BCRP members.
  • Submitted crime report from an incident on Sunday involving a bulk theft from M&S – the CCTV we have from our BID camera in the area is perfect and it should be a cut and dried case.
  • After a quick walk around town found a few more shops that needed 2m separation markings, so used a stencil and paint borrowed from Debenhams to do this for them.
  • Report from taxi rank that the free Wi-Fi is not working in their area – contacted the council’s IT supplier to have this looked into.
  • Zoom meeting regarding the Heritage Action Zone with lots of good discussion about future changes to parts of the town.
  • E-mailed ESCC highways partnership manager to see if they will agree to the local arts festival painting some of their street cabinets with artwork from local artists.
  • Provided advice to a new start-up business on the rules around food regulations and licenses that need to be obtained from the council
  • Three more businesses found who would be happy to look after the flower planters near their premises.

A productive day all round.

WEDNESDAY

As well as a bit of early-morning watering decided to add grit top-dressing to some of the flower troughs to help keep moisture in during the hot summer months. Makes them look even better.

  • After finding a few plants that had not survived or that had been ‘removed’ by persons unknown bought a few new ones to plant out and also to cultivate elsewhere so they are mature if they are needed.
  • Had a talk to the agent of an empty shop with a flank wall that is crying out for a mural to try and trace the owner. We’ve got two great artworks in Queens Road that we funded last year, but more would be better. The owner’s a young guy living in Belfast and proving hard to track down.
  • Quick walk of the town to check for any issues – all quiet an in order today.
  • Another flower trough adopted buy a local shop and discussed helping the business convert their website to allow people to buy things online as well as providing advice to them on getting a bounce-back loan.
  • Met with chair of Bexhill chamber of commerce to look around the town, show him what we are doing, and talk about measures that might help trade.
  • Called out police on 999 to assist a security patrol officer who had been assaulted with a rock thrown at them by some youths. Radio came into its own as the suspects were spotted in the Old Town and this was relayed to the police.
  • In my voluntary capacity as chair of Hastings Neighbourhood Watch took a call from another chair who needed a new website and loved ours. Promised to give up an evening or some of my weekend to build one for him.
  • Phone call from Hastings environmental health about the Covid-safe poster – agreed it is useful to display, but not essential.
  • Manager of ESCC business growth hub e-mailed to arrange a meeting for next week.
  • E-mail conversation with neighbouring towns and the police to look at possible police training for partnership working on the business crime reduction partnership.
  • Explored how soon we might be able to get access to national reports from the business crime centre regarding gangs of traveling thieves.
  • E-mail to local journalist with a list of possible future stories for them regarding the town centre – positive response about getting them published.
  • Street trading enquiry from a person looking to get a pitch in the town. Had to explain there are no permanent pitches currently available.
  • Followed up longstanding offer of a meeting from Network Rail to look at getting steps put in on their land where an informal path had been created by people taking a shortcut down a slope. Trying to get someone to look at it next week if possible.
  • Noticed people queuing badly outside Jempson’s Café – promised to come back in the morning to talk to the manager about 2m markings.
  • Spent an hour double-checking for any outstanding emails and chasing responses that were overdue.
Murals.

THURSDAY

Today it’s a 6am start in the rain – but it’s good to meet the other early-risers around town, including the owner of a newly opened kitchen and bathroom showroom. He’s keen to put some flower tubs outside his shop, so I encouraged this and promised to look into what license he might need.

  • Great to hear more and more old familiar voices coming back onto the radio during the regular morning sign-ins.
  • Delivered a couple more barriers to another of the food stalls who needed them.
  • Spoke to Jempson’s manager and agreed placement of 2m distancing stencil painting (when the rain stops).
  • Noticed that Greggs also need the same as they re-opened today – made note to go back later on.
  • Discussion with Business Ambassador about the pattern of future security patrols – may switch them to cover weekends in the main depending on how things go over the next week or so.
  • Three Zoom meetings and all overlapping – apologies to one (future of Hastings session organised by the community hub team).
  • Joint Action Group (police, council and various other agencies interested in crime and safety in the borough) – key issues discussed included the long-standing problem of dispersing street drinkers from the town centre, possibility of more ‘operation blitz’ days (where people can call a police mobile number for quick responses to anti-social behaviour), advice for security and shop staff who may be assaulted by potential Covid-carriers, and the good news about how quickly we’d been able to re-task the security patrols.  Updates received from all partners on crime and safety issues affecting them and discussions about joint responses.
  • Safer Streets funding bid team meeting looked at progress towards a decision from the Home Office on a submission for around £450,000 for a project in St Leonards that would significantly strengthen the BCRP. Now not going to hear a decision until some time in July, but need to plan in case we are successful, as the money has to be spent by the end of the financial year. Tabled proposal to bid for JAG money to do a side-by-side test on a few possible CCTV cameras that could be deployed if the larger bid is successful. Arranged site meeting with council and community partners to go over some aspects of the project in more detail.
  • Put forward the idea to the council’s community safety manager of having BT phone boxes covered up or removed as a part of making the high street safer during Covid. He will use his contact at BT to see if this can be achieved.
  • Accepted meeting invite from the Cabinet Office communications manager for the South East to discuss what BIDs are doing at the moment to support businesses. Used the opportunity to lobby again for release of the ‘spare’ £2bn currently allocated to business grants but unlikely to be spent. Suggested this would be great to support the cultural business sector.
  • Issued ‘wanted’ alert for robbery suspect at the request of the police via the Businesswatch messaging system.
  • Facebook post published to ask for people to adopt flower troughs… some quick positive responses.
  • Replied to a local arts project about a request to display some of their art around the town.
  • Made an initial plan with Rotherview Nursery to do a flower maintenance workshop in the market during the summer.
  • Circulated information to shops about illicit menthol cigarettes
  • Radio report from Shopwatch member that they had overheard a group of three people talking about selling stolen goods – great CCTV image obtained by the Business Ambassador who moved the BID town centre camera to catch them. Positive identification from screen grab that it was the same three, and this was quickly circulated to other stores via the instant message service.
  • As the rain had stopped took the chance to spray more 2m markings outside Jempsons, Savers, Greggs and H&T, plus the al the food vans.
  • Signed up H&T at the same time to adopt a flower trough outside their store.
  • Spotted an RSPCA officer trying to get into the Odeon Cinema. She’s had a report of a bird trapped in netting on the roof but couldn’t find a keyholder. I tried the office of the trustees of the charity that owned the building and the managing agents but no luck. Fire Brigade arrived on site with a ladder but road had to be closed for 30 minutes so I took on traffic duties to redirect cars from the top of the road and advise drivers of alternative routes. Bird safely released.
  • Excellent meeting (arranged by the Business Ambassador) with two very good local events promoters about an exciting development that the BID may be able to work with to boost tourist trade to the town centre.   
  • Received request from county councillor to help someone submit a business grant, but sadly looks like they wouldn’t be eligible, as they haven’t started trading yet.
  • Approached by local business to get the BID to lobby county council to review proposed increase in charges for on-street parking. We did respond to the consultation last year and opposed it.
  • Possible identification through the BusinessWatch DISC app of a suspect who assaulted a parking warden earlier today – requested new custody photo from police to update current image.
  • Responded to town hall facilities manager at council about questions around power supply to market traders.
  • Juggling dates for a meeting next week with the ESCC growth hub manager.
  • Likely ID received from a Shopwatch member with a name for one of the group of shoplifters caught on CCTV earlier – looking to confirm this as accurate.

Quite a long day this one.

FRIDAY:

A late start today…the rain is doing the plant watering for us and so I didn’t get to the computer until just before 8am to start clearing out some old e-mails.

  • Sent thanks Government communications team for acknowledging and responding to my request for the published daily national Covid risk threat to be changed. It has gone from saying ‘raised to high’ to ‘remains high’. A small but important victory!
  • Explained to a councillor and start-up business that sadly the business needed to have been trading at the start of March to be eligible for a grant. Did mention that if they are already trading from another property in the borough that might allow them to claim.
  • Chased up accreditation certificate for the business crime partnership. We passed this before lockdown but the team issuing the certificates were furloughed. We need the certificate to access national business crime data.
  • Replied to several enquiries for food trading pitches and a continental market for later in the summer.
  • Discussed legalities of using offender images on DISC with local police inspector.
  • Quick chat with council’s head of Environmental Health about imminent departure of the current licensing manager due to retirement and any impact this may have on Barwatch in the future. Agreed to meet up in the next week or so to discuss further.
  • Responded to a council request to give them a quote for a press release on the current message to be given to people looking to visit Hastings – something to discuss quickly with the Chair.
  • Good long discussion with the Chair to share ideas and updates. Definitely need to start saying that Hastings businesses are now open for business. Need to get directors views on level of support we can give to activities on the pier over the summer.
  • Potentially good news from the council that the idea we floated yesterday about closing off phone boxes could end up with some being removed quite quickly.
  • Great feedback from Debenhams that the extra signage has worked.
  • Took a call from an event organiser asking for advice on what sort of activities would be permitted if his group goes ahead with a small July 4th event to promote local businesses – agreed to a variety of proposals and promised to support any applications to the police or council for licenses. Gave them details of the two local police inspectors they need to liaise with.
  • Received an instant message from shop in town asking for help with a faulty radio – called up Business Ambassador to pop in and take a look. Fixed within 30 mins.
  • New enquiry from possible street food vendor – put her in touch with the Market operator as she only wants to work two days a week.
  • Agreed meeting date for next week (online) between owner of Jempsons and Sussex Police business crime lead officer.
  • Received new government advice on safe opening of shops – circulated a new self-assessment tool to the area via Facebook. Will also include this in our next e-mail newsletter.
  • Board papers arrived for the Heritage Action Zone meeting I’ve agreed to chair. Lots of reading to do now.
  • Revised press release received from the council with a better ‘open for business’ message and a request for a quote within 30 mins. Re-wrote the release to make it a stronger story and included a quote thanking the council for their efforts. Council happy with revised wording.
  • Received a request from the council for quick feedback on a plan to introduce new cycle racks in the town. Produced a Google map with some suggested locations based on where people tend to chain bikes to railings. Also suggested looking at the shopping centre and Morrisons as locations.
  • Call from council communications manager about the press release – they are happy to start changing their message from ‘stay away’ to ‘we are open for business’ and agreed to have a broader discussion about joint working some time next week.
  • Lining up a press release for next week about a photo project that features local musicians and venues – confident it will get regional newspaper and TV coverage.

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