A couple of years ago I was invited by David Jukes to give a talk at the Mayor’s lunch at Tunbridge Wells Cricket Week. The focus was on how various parts of Tunbridge Wells could work together, highlighting the benefits that this could bring, in the hope that it would encourage people and businesses to take action to help make this happen. A few days following the talk, I was approached by Stephen Gurney, (the publisher of Index magazine) who had attended the lunch and was keen to see how we could take this idea forward. Stephen is a keen supporter of a town centre management that is representative of the businesses in the town and had seen how such a system had been successfully implemented in Canterbury.
Our first step was to have an initial discussion with Nicky Blanchard, the centre manager of RVP, and Hilary Smith at TWBC and we soon established that we all shared the same view – that for Tunbridge Wells to fulfil its potential as a centre of choice for business, work, living and leisure, something was needed to bring together the various physical elements of the town to enable Royal Tunbridge Wells to be promoted as a single entity, as opposed to its various individual parts.
From then on the project really started to gain momentum. Through further discussions with local businesses and key individuals, it became apparent that our views and aspirations were shared by many others and we were soon joined by representatives of several major businesses in the town. The first objective was to employ a dedicated Town Centre Manager to co-ordinate a range of future activities that would help us achieve our longer term vision. But to do this, we needed money so a legal entity was required to enable us to raise the necessary funds – and so Royal Tunbridge Wells Together, a Community Interest Company, was created for this purpose.
Royal Tunbridge Wells Together (RTWT), is funded by several major businesses (which commit a subscription of £5,000 a year for the first three years) and by a number of smaller businesses that contribute a smaller annual amount. Whilst RTWT has already achieved some significant progress in promoting Royal Tunbridge Wells, it became quite evident, as time went on, that to progress our plans more quickly and to realise our vision, significantly more funding was needed. We began to look at what other towns and cities (including Canterbury) had done to achieve something similar and we came to the conclusion that the best way forward was to apply for a Business Improvement District (BID). And so that is how we have got to where we are today.
With Thomson Snell & Passmore being the oldest surviving law firm in the world and with the firm having practised in Tunbridge Wells since the mid 19th Century, we have a longstanding connection with the town. Our head office has been in Royal Tunbridge Wells since the 1960’s and, as one of the town’s major employers, we want to see it continue to succeed and grow. Whilst a BID may not provide the firm with a direct financial benefit, there will certainly be a number of intangible benefits, not least that the town will be a better and more attractive place in which people can work, shop, eat and take leisure. From a business perspective, it will help attract and retain staff, and there will be improved and better co-ordinated networking opportunities, which will help build and maintain new relationships.
A BID will undoubtedly help Royal Tunbridge Wells fulfil its true potential as a centre of choice for people to live, work and shop. By facilitating focused investment in the town a BID will also give businesses a say in how that investment is made and provide the opportunity to create an even more vibrant and inviting town centre for everyone who lives, works and visits here.