Planning for the future, responding to today
Determined to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head-on, alongside a new council plan we developed a Road to Renewal plan and are currently shaping a new economic growth strategy. Together with a set of priorities, these tools are helping us to drive forward and secure the future we want for Watford. Adhering to our mantra, be bold, they set out a series of tangible actions we must take to ensure the economic engine of our town survives, revives and thrives.
The council’s initial priority was to get grant funding out to local businesses as quickly as possible so they could survive the financial challenges of the pandemic. We are pleased to have been one of the first councils in the country to make the payments.
It quickly became apparent that businesses were being bamboozled by the quick fire rules, guidance and support packages that were emerging all the time. So, we created a new dedicated website - watfordbusiness.com – to help them navigate the shifting landscape. It has all the latest important information that businesses need to know.
Our Environmental Health team has been in touch with every business in the borough and has made key resources available to them so they can operate within the changing landscape of restrictions.
Providing businesses with the tools to succeed
More recently, we have funded and kick-started the Watford Business Recovery and Growth Programme, offering existing and start-up businesses access to free, inclusive and impartial business advice, skills training, drop-in co-working space and digital support services over and above what is already on offer in Hertfordshire. Our aim with the programme is to help businesses overcome the current challenges and to flourish in the future. The programme is being run on behalf of the council by Wenta and in just the first few weeks more than 100 small businesses have accessed the services.
In September, we also launched a pilot project with global brand WhatsApp, who trained 12 businesses on Market Street - a key retail area in the centre of town - to use their small business app as a key platform of communication during the pandemic. As well as helping these businesses get through the pandemic, the pilot programme has shone a light on the great, diverse and resilient businesses we have in our town.
We are also helping the town’s smaller businesses to get their click and collect services up and running and looking at how they can strengthen their online presence, which is vital if they are to come through this pandemic.
Investing in infrastructure and the right employment space
As we now once again adapt to a different phase of the pandemic, the council is very clear that our focus must be on maximising opportunities for Watford. We are proactively working with our partners to seek out schemes to benefit our town, including continuing to improve travel options and public spaces. Our aim is to make Watford the obvious option for public investment in infrastructure to encourage economic prosperity, improving the lives of residents and providing opportunities for our businesses.
Of course, simply having the employment space there isn’t enough. It needs to be the right make up of space and regular investment is needed to make sure they are modern and fit for purpose. That’s why we have made significant investments in a number of the town’s key business hubs, including Watford Junction train station and the town centre, improving how they look and feel, as well as the access.
The council also owns Watford and Croxley Business Parks, both of which have new developments underway, bringing new high quality business premises to the market. They provide a range of great options for businesses wanting to locate in the town. In spring, a new building offering 85,000 sq ft of grade A office space will open on Croxley Park and work will start on new industrial units on Watford Business Park. This marks the start of significant investment in the park and our aim of attracting and retaining the business that are so vital to the healthy economy of our town.
We want to champion our town so that it is a place where all our communities thrive and prosper, benefiting from strong economic growth and good quality local services and facilities. More of the same isn’t going to secure the future we want for Watford which is why we are developing our new economic growth strategy now to direct our focus for the coming years. This will set out Watford’s place in the region, its strength, its opportunities and, importantly, its sector focus.
Marie Power is a communications and engagement manager at Watford BC