Harrogate was awarded a BID (Business Improvement District) late last year thanks to John Fox and his team; let’s hope the money this will attract is spent wisely on projects, such as dramatically improving our Christmas lights, and maybe even pop-up floral displays around town. The UCI Road World Championships are coming to town in September. What a coup, thanks to Sir Gary Verity and his team. Harrogate Borough Council are currently working on an Events Strategy for the town centre, which is intended to inject some much-needed life into the high street. There are many more things that continue to happen in Harrogate because of committed individuals - often volunteers- giving days, weeks, and months of their time and energy. The Organisers of the Harrogate Christmas Market and Harrogate in Bloom are two fine examples from many.
To attract the UCI, not just to GB but to Harrogate, is a massive achievement, and it all started back in 2014 when the Tour de France started in Harrogate. How did Sir Gary manage that, you ask? He took a completely different approach, including showing a projection of Mark Cavendish, the local well-known and successful professional cyclist, on a big screen in Leeds City Centre at the precise moment the Organisers were walking through with him. Did that make an impact?? Well, they started the race in Yorkshire with Harrogate as the hub, so I’d say so!!
Let me ask the owners and managers of businesses in Harrogate: are you planning to do things differently this year? As I am informed all hotels and bed & breakfasts are already fully booked for that period in September – how are you going to welcome visitors coming from all over the world? Restaurants and café owners, there will be hundreds of thousands of people descending upon Harrogate during, before, and after the event. You never know, they may choose to return if we impress them! Have you planned special menus; are you serving more gluten-free and vegan dishes for example? January 2019 was the month veganism became popular. Will people continue with it now January has gone? Harrogate even has The Online Vegan Market on Commercial Street. Harrogate is known for its great selection of eateries, but why not also become known as the place to visit for different food?
It’s not all about food and a place to rest your weary head, however. What are other town centre retailers going to do differently in 2019 and beyond? Are Jewellers going to produce a memento of the occasion? Will clothing outlets design quality shirts and accessories? What are local brewers planning? Could coworking establishments advertise through hoteliers, etc, that there’s a place for visitors to go to keep connected with the world whilst in Harrogate. These are just a few ideas off the top of my head; there must be many more. Please don’t wait until someone else steals your thunder. You do it and work with the bureaucrats to make it happen, which isn’t easy, I know, but it will be worth the effort. Do something different to attract more visitors to Harrogate and to your business.
I understand the concerns that some retailers have about road closures in and around the town centre and how that will affect trade. I am assured, however, from the organisers of the UCI - Yorkshire 2019 – that they are going out of their way to ensure that proper and appropriate signage will say that even though some roads will be closed for periods during the event, the town centre is still open for business. We must get this signage right this time, not like in 2014, when the signage read something like “town centre closed”, when it should have said only specific roads were closed. How about retailers investing in pop-ups on the Stray (when the Secretary of State gives formal approval that is for the use of the Stray) during the period of the World Cycling Championships. Some people are sweating on this decision! I hope that you had your say on this during the consultation period late last year.
We have some first-class schools and further education establishments in Harrogate, although Harrogate College is still waiting with bated breath on their future – I will not let this one go! What are they planning for the event? I know that we have some talented young musicians and actors in Harrogate. I hope they’re planning a special performance on the Stray, for example, to commemorate the event.
Residents and Retailers in Harrogate, are you planning a barbeque or street party? For those roads in Harrogate that are closed why not have a street party with your own retail pop-ups. That is, if you aren’t cashing in on renting your property out during the period of the Championships!
Public transport needs to be ready for the influx of visitors. Improvements have been made over the past year to the Leeds to York via Harrogate rail service with the long-awaited introduction of the newly refurbished 170 trains. There’s still some work to do, however, with the old, (and should have been scrapped years ago) two-car Pacers still appearing from time to time. This is very frustrating for commuters, when they turn up at peak times of the day. However, the service is improving – honestly. The 36 bus service from Leeds to Ripon via Harrogate continues to excel, running at 10-minute intervals at peak times of the day. Hopefully, both public service operators will recognise the need to be on top form during September, but why not at all times of the year?
I’d also like to include Harrogate Town Football Club here, as Simon Weaver, together with his father Irving, have transformed the club, taking the first team to new heights. Rather than being purely focussed on accolades, they both believe deeply in being part of the Harrogate community.
Let us all help to grow Harrogate’s reputation across the globe. We must take advantage of this and other opportunities to come. Harrogate has a lot to offer, and don’t forget, a lot of our roads which are badly in need of repair, will be resurfaced to ensure that the cyclists have a smooth ride. We may even get a respite from the numerous roadworks we’ve endured over past few years!
Perhaps we all need to take a leaf out of Greggs the Baker’s book, when their one-line response to Piers Morgan’s attack on their vegan sausage rolls caused every branch to sell out. And how did Greggs respond to being called “PC-ravaged clowns”? “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you.” Pure class.