As we enter the last few weeks of an incredibly difficult year and with this week’s news about Kingston entering Tier 3 restrictions, I wanted to say a few words about resilience and the New Year. It goes without saying that Covid-19 has touched all of our lives and businesses, created anxiety and uncertainty about the future and led to unprecedented financial strain. Yet, I’ve seen and experienced a strength and community spirit in Kingston town which we can all be proud to be a part of. In the toughest of times, so many of our businesses have gone that extra mile to support the town’s community, keep their staff, customers and clients safe whilst still providing the best possible services, products and experiences.
Everyone has adjusted their lives and businesses to fit around the pandemic – from working from home to creating Covid-secure workspaces – and we’ve worked together with Kingston’s businesses to coordinate successful re-openings of our town centre. People’s expectations and attitudes have changed since the pandemic and one of the biggest positives to come out of this crisis is that people want to support local businesses; after both lockdowns ended Kingston town centre’s footfall numbers were above the national average. The ‘We are Kingston’ campaign, which Kingston First launched with the support of our local businesses, highlighted the passion and pride that exists within our town centre community.
Over the last few months we’ve lobbied on behalf of our businesses for changes; from making the case for a discretionary Council grant of £25k to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses who fell outside the government’s early grant thresholds, to bringing forward the Christmas roadworks moratorium and supporting outdoor dining opportunities. As we look ahead to next year, we’ve joined forces with other BIDs, local Councils and industry experts across the country in support of the Bounce Back Better campaign, calling for an extension to the business rates holiday, extending the VAT reduction scheme and pausing NI contributions for furloughed employees. For our leisure, hospitality, events and entertainment sectors who have been most curtailed by the recent Tier 3 restrictions, financial support is urgently needed.
Green shoots are starting to appear; this year, we’ve seen ten new businesses open in the town centre, and with new developments in the pipeline, including the Unilever headquarters, redevelopment of Kingston leisure centre and the vision for a new Kingston town centre is starting to become a reality. I anticipate the first quarter of 2021 will continue to be challenging across business sectors but we will continue to do all that we can to support our businesses and the town. On behalf of all the staff at Kingston First, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Kirsten Henly, Chief Executive, Kingston First
Watch Kirsten being interviewed by BBC London News on Tuesday 15 December, discussing the impact of Tier 3 restrictions on Kingston’s businesses and town centre footfall: