Ruth Duston OBE OC, chief executive of the Victoria and Victoria Westminster BIDs, on the importance of being nimble and how our capital can be even stronger
The past year has tested us all. Notwithstanding the appalling human tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the last 12 months have forced us to rethink how we work and how we interact with each other – indeed, how we live our lives. For many months last year, it seemed impossible to see an end and we were in a perpetual state of crisis management. Certainly for the BID, we ceased our ‘business as usual’ activities and created a series of bespoke projects and programmes to respond to where the need was in our community. Funds that would have been invested in physical events and programmes were diverted to create a virtual events series for South Westminster, working with our sister BID in Victoria Westminster and neighbouring BID at Northbank. This series proved to be incredibly popular and has provided support, advice and skill development to over 3,000 attendees. Our security team also added an overnight patrol to assist businesses with vacant units during national restrictions and provide local law enforcement with additional support on the ground.
It’s been hard but rewarding work and, I think, demonstrates what a BID can do best: being nimble and able to respond to changing needs, tailoring activity that delivers the most results.
This approach will stand us in good stead now as we look ahead to the gradual easing of restrictions with genuine confidence, thanks to the success of the vaccine roll-out.
While we cannot expect the recovery to be easy, we must be ready to reinvigorate our city with energy and optimism. There are significant opportunities before us. A unique opportunity to reframe our relationship with the city around us and retain some of the unintended positive impacts of the last year. Mental health and wellbeing, for example, at one time peripheral issues in the workplace, will undoubtedly now be front and centre.
Also, taking a more considered view about the role of the office, and how the workplace needs to inspire and bring colleagues together, presents opportunities to create office spaces with productivity designed in rather than something we simply hope to achieve.
We must not squander these opportunities. London needs to be on top of its game in the coming years, competing not only with other global cities, but spearheading the UK’s economic resurgence too where the ripples will be felt far beyond the M25.
“Let’s work together to create a shared vision of the sort of city we all want to see – seizing the opportunities to do things better”
The role of the private sector is going to be vital and it’s essential that businesses pull together to achieve the biggest impact. Our role at Victoria BID, defining shared goals and opportunities and then galvanising local businesses and wider partners, has never been more essential. This country has shown great resilience in handling the pandemic, with different sectors working together and overcoming obstacles – this spirit of collaboration must continue during our recovery.
I think right now, as we stand on the brink of this nation’s next big challenge, we must be resolute in how we approach the task. We are not complacent about the scale of the challenge, or that there won’t be difficult days ahead, but we must look to the future with confidence and ambition.
Let’s work together to create a shared vision of the sort of city we all want to see – seizing the opportunities to do things better. To work harder, play harder and embrace our capital in new and more rewarding ways.
We may not go back to coming into Zone 1 to work five days a week, but let’s make the days we are here matter more. If we place this sentiment at the heart of our recovery approach, we will make good decisions. We will make our environment cleaner and more attractive, we will design inspirational and innovative workspaces, we will create irreplaceable experiences in our retail and hospitality, and, importantly, we will remember the compassion and care we have demonstrated as a nation and seek ways to incorporate this more into our day-to-day lives. We will achieve all of these things by each playing our part, sharing new ideas and being bold in how we deliver them.
I see this recovery as heralding a new era of partnership – not only between the public and private sectors, but with local communities, other cities here in the UK and around the world, and businesses collaborating more than ever. The Victoria BID has been your local champion for more than 10 years, listening to you, advocating for you and proudly being part of the renaissance of the area over the last decade. We’re ready for the next challenge – are you?