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Published on 24 March 2021
Archived on 24 April 2021
COVID-19 has been a challenge for everyone over the past year, but after a difficult 12 months, Stratford District is ready to start its recovery.
I am the Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Tourism, which means I am responsible for ensuring the council does everything it can to make our district as attractive as possible for visitors, while giving businesses as many opportunities as possible to thrive here.
The economy, however, is not something that can be fixed quickly. It is a little bit like manoeuvring an oil tanker - it takes a long time to make progress and there is no shortcut to success.
As a District Council, our role is to facilitate plans that will get the economy moving again, but other parties need to come together to make the changes happen.
We cannot control which shops or businesses move into Stratford District, but we can make the area appealing for people to visit and live, which attracts businesses as a result. It is the support of people which truly makes a high street in a town flourish.
Take our Riverside redevelopment project as an example. Our hope is it will encourage more residents and local tourists to visit Stratford and the wider district, which will mean our shops, pubs and accommodation venues will earn more money.
If enough come, some may like it enough that they consider staying - hence why we're helping facilitate new housing plans such as the Canal Quarter.
And those who decide to live here will need jobs, which is why we're pushing ahead with projects like the Wellesbourne Innovation Hub, which will attract employers from all over the world.
Essentially, we need to make our district an attractive place for people to visit, live, and for firms to do business in.
As mentioned before, this takes time, but it also takes a high degree of certainty about the future for progress to be made. The COVID-19 pandemic meant the future became unclear for everyone.
We have supported so many of our businesses through this by issuing millions in government grants. With so many reliant on tourism, and with a high proportion of hospitality businesses, we have worked incredibly hard to get grant applications processed and in businesses' bank accounts to keep them going through this crisis.
Happily though, the government's roadmap out of lockdown and the successful vaccine rollout has given us something to aim for. Indeed, take up of the vaccine in South Warwickshire is even higher than in many other parts of the UK.
There's a phrase I've heard a lot through my meetings with businesses and with economic bodies around the country recently - cautious optimism.
While we've seen short-lived recovery before, the general feeling is the take up of the vaccine has increased confidence among residents and visitors, and a dreaded 'third wave' of cases comparable to what we saw in the winter is less likely.
It's clear that not everyone will be rushing out when restrictions ease - some will understandably be more cautious - but our hope is over time, that confidence will gradually increase and the economy will begin to recover.
The message we've been giving out to businesses is not to stand still, because the firms that did the best during the pandemic were the ones that innovated quickly.
For example, I was made aware of an event company in the district which built stands for clients who attended exhibitions. When COVID hit, demand dropped to almost zero.
However, because of the firm's investment in high-tech machinery and reputation for creating high-quality, innovative products, they were approached by a construction firm who commissioned them to create a bespoke wooden staircase for a new build.
Since then, they have successfully branched out into creating staircases and other fittings for new homes, which made them plenty of money during the pandemic.
When restrictions ease, they are planning to continue this alongside the event-stand side of the business.
Ultimately, we cannot run employers' businesses for them. Our role is to give them the support they need and create the conditions for good businesses to flourish.
Throughout this pandemic, our team has had to adapt to working from home and cope with a huge number of firms asking for help and advice. I think we've risen to the challenge, and our hard work has meant we're now in a position where our economy should really start to recover.
To use that phrase again - we're cautiously optimistic. Over the course of 2021 and beyond, we're hopeful tourists will start coming back, more people will live and work here, and businesses will all reap the benefits.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council
Elizabeth House, Church Street,
Tel: 01789 267575