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‘Where you shop matters’ as drive to promote local shopping continues

BID and Beyond mascot Harry the Heart spreading the love around local shops. (Photographs: Orkney Photographic)

Having to adapt and evolve to act as a vital lifeline for businesses across the Orkney landscape during a global pandemic may not have been forecast by the team at Kirkwall Business Improvement District (BID) — but it is a role they have risen to.

March 23 is a date which will be etched in the annals of time, as Orkney, along with the rest of the country, entered into a full lockdown, transforming our lives overnight.

Small local independent retailers were suddenly plunged into a terrifying new reality, one which, quite literally, posed a very large and very real threat to their existence.

As the weeks and months slipped by, it was clear that this was no short-term hiccup, on the road to another fruitful tourist-laden summer season.

Coronavirus or COVID-19 was here to stay, and the impact it would have on every aspect of our lives has, and continues to be, beyond measure.

For Kelly Kirkness and Sally Laughton, the two part-time staff at Kirkwall BID, action stations were manned, and the team adopted emergency protocol in unprecedented times, doing all they could to keep Orkney’s retail sector from sinking.

Initially, efforts were focused on the 280 businesses within Kirkwall’s designated BID area, but as the crisis deepened, it was apparent that every single business, regardless of industry, size or location, would require assistance to survive this pandemic.

This led to Kirkwall BID and Beyond being established in May — significantly expanding and enhancing the reach and scope of BID to incorporate all businesses across our islands — to assist each and every business keep their doors open, and maintain Orkney’s enthralling shopping offering.

Laura Bruce, consultant at Kirkwall BID and Beyond, explains that this Orkney-wide collaborative effort was and still is crucial in ensuring retailers survive.

Around 90 businesses, over a third of the BID membership, were recruited via the Beyond drive — quickly benefiting from BID’s significant social media following, and pooling resources and expertise together as one.

By now, the small BID team was working round the clock to help businesses and collate important information to relay to the public, as it managed a very precarious financial situation of its own.

A key source of BID’s income, the fees businesses inside the Kirkwall town centre pay, were cancelled, leaving the organisation in financial limbo.

Laura admits the “awful” situation took its toll, saying: “It was things like being told that families on low income weren’t able to access the charity shops, and they weren’t able to get clothes.

“I really took it on board, and I was really worried for everybody. It was a really difficult time.”

But shops across the county rose to the challenge — playing a key role in helping the people of Orkney navigate their way through the weeks and months of lockdown — and BID and Beyond was a key driver in this.

Websites were developed and, of course, delivery services assisted everyone, including the most vulnerable to stick to public health guidelines and keep safe.

The Beyond project is funded until the end of September, and it is hoped further funding could see the project being extended into next year — a source of “vital” support during the quieter winter months, according to Laura.

“I definitely think there’s some potential in having something similar to the BID across Orkney in some format.

“It is very difficult to take it on as an improvement district, because there are very strict laws and regulations regarding that, and it would be very difficult to manage so many diverse industries.

Harry the Heart adds plenty of colour in Stromness.

“Perhaps a retail and hospitality type BID across Orkney would be something that would be really positive, to encourage joined up working.

“The BID and Beyond project is due to finish on September 30, but we are really hopeful that we will get a little bit more funding from the resilience fund which is due to be announced this week.

“If we can do that, I’m very keen for the project to continue until next year.”

Laura, and the rest of the Kirkwall BID team and board, remains “cautiously optimistic” for the future ahead.

“Where you shop matters,” reiterates Laura, as she urges people to ditch large online retailers and instead plump to support local stores and local jobs.

BID and Beyond is working hand in hand with The Orcadian in our six-week campaign to promote local shopping.

Laura says: “We really want to encourage people locally to spend their money here, as demonstrated by our participation with The Orcadian in the Orkney Loves Local campaign.

“We want people to understand what that means, and what it means if you spend your £20 at a retailer online versus spending £20 down the street.

“We want to try and get everybody thinking differently. I think that will be a key part. We can’t make up for the massive loss of revenue from tourism this year; that’s not going to happen.

“But if everybody locally started to think slightly differently, and even if all the adults were spending £5 more a week in Orkney than online, that would be £4.3million in the local economy over 12 months.”