STRATFORD businesses have voted overwhelmingly to keep Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) for another five years.
A total of 172 votes were cast (excluding ballot papers rejected) – 121 in favour and 51 against, securing a third term for the organisation, which represents nearly 450 businesses in Stratford town centre.
Despite the result, which wasn’t as close as many had feared, there is a palpable sense of disquiet among some businesses. In the summer Stratforward BID director Joe Baconnet and his team launched a major PR counter-offensive in an attempt to sway opinion among those undecided voters.
The stakes were high and a no vote would mean the end of those services and events that have been organised by BID, including festivals, town hosts, marketing, Christmas lights and retail radio system. The BID campaign was struck a body blow when two weeks before the big vote BID board member Dave Matthews of Magic Alley in Bell Court resigned and backed a ‘No vote’ campaign.
This week Joe Baconnet reflected on the significance of last Friday’s yes vote. “Some people voted yes and some no but this is not Trump Stratford where division lines are clearly drawn as they are in America. I’m very pleased we had a vote of positivity from businesses. From our perspective we will continue to support all of them but the challenge will be to convince those who voted against us to work alongside us.
“The yes vote wasn’t because of any last minute PR machine that went into overdrive but what we did do was talk to people by holding an open forum to gauge people’s views and we talked with a lot of businesses. We had to believe we were doing our best for the town but if the vote had been no we’d have had to accept that.”
Asked if he was disappointed by the shock resignation of Dave Matthews? Mr Baconnet replied: “BID decided that things should carry on as normal. I’m not in the business of holding grudges. I treat people as I would want to be treated but it did come as a disappointment.”
“I just feel very excited about a third term but I know we’ve got loads to do,” said Joe Baconnet. But some BID members remain unconvinced with the vote result and particularly the turnout. Dave Matthews of Magic Alley in Bell Court said: “I’m not very impressed with the turnout, a lot of people in the town have said they are not happy with Stratforward, but I think many didn’t vote because they just thought what’s the point?, they’re going to get in anyway.
“I wish Stratforward good luck and I will keep an eye open to see if they actually deliver everything they promised, otherwise I will be on their case about it. I would like to work with Stratforward, we’re stuck with them for five years now so we have to make the best of it.”
Another business owner who’s reserving judgement is Simon Wheeler owner of the Rohan franchise who said: “Firstly I would like to congratulate Stratforward on a very well-coordinated media campaign and subsequent re-election.
It is however of concern that only 41 per cent of businesses eligible to vote did so, meaning that just 28 per cent of the 427 actually said ‘yes.’ “I hope that Stratforward will adjust their plans to take on board ALL of the comments and needs of local businesses, so we can move forward with a more cohesive and effective business development strategy for the next five years.”
Rachael Barber of Four Teas, who claims has been let down by the lack of support in the face of competition from the Sunday Market on Waterside, said: “I suppose it’s a case of better the devil you know. I hope BID aren’t going to be like politicians who you never hear from again once they’ve been re-elected.
Hopefully we have some sort of voice now. Most of our beef is with the district council and BID must not be a mouthpiece for the council it must represent businesses.” Steven Allpress of Knights Fine Jewellery in Wood Street said: “I’ve spoken with Joe Baconnet and to be honest I wouldn’t fancy his job. I had very good trading days off the back of the food festival and the motoring festival so two out of three isn’t bad but I still think there’s a lot that needs to be done.”
Helen Peters, chief executive, Shakespeare’s England, which works closely with Stratfoward, said: “I think it is very positive, it would have been a real loss to the town if the vote had gone the other way.
“We work with a lot of towns in the Shakespeare England area, some don’t have a BID but Stratford does and that means because of the festivals and the positive marketing initiatives people who come to the town have the option of combining Shakespeare with other events like the river festival, food festival or motoring festival and that helps determine where people want to stay in the UK whether they are long haul or domestic visitors.”
Businesswoman Lisa Preston, who owns ShoeMed, said: “I am delighted with the BID vote, as a small business owner and local resident, I value their organisation and delivery of events in our town. The Town Hosts are a brilliant presence.”
Nick Jefford, General Manager of Hotel du Vin, Stratford said: “BID is good for business in Stratford, who else has the contacts to market the town. I’m Stratford born and bred, so was my father and grandfather, that’s why this really is my town.
Stratforward BID plays an important part in keeping it that way.” Kate Harrison, owner of Shabby Chic Sister added: “Stratford is better off with the BID than without it. I don’t think people realise what would have happened to the town if there was no motoring or food festival.
However, BID must increase opportunities for local businesses to vent their feelings to the district council over key issues.” Cllr Maurice Howse, Stratford District Council’s Business, Tourism and ICT Portfolio holder said: “This is good news. Local businesses have given their seal of approval with a ‘yes’ vote giving Stratforward the confidence to build on their successes and drive further improvements for the town centre for the next five years.
The district council will continue to work closely with them for the benefit of all our local businesses in the town.”