Operation Sparkle, a major clean up of the city centre organised by Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID, is part of an ongoing move towards a higher quality experience across all aspects of the city centre. Here’s what you can expect, and how it will help to boost the local economy.
When you think of Stoke-on-Trent city centre what are the first words that spring to mind? If the word quality isn’t amongst them then it soon will be, if Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID has anything to do with it.
As part of its wide-ranging initiative to build back better for a post-COVID world, the BID is about to launch Operation Sparkle.
As the name suggests, this first main objective of the year will see areas of the city centre given a spring clean. It will include everything from litter picking to tackling graffiti, and from touching up paintwork to planting flowers.
Businesses and members of the public are being urged to play their part alongside BID representatives and key stakeholders such as Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
The aim is to ensure the city centre is a quality, well-maintained environment that will attract shoppers and visitors, encourage them to spend more time and money in the city centre and, crucially, encourage them to return.
Julie Davies OBE, the BID’s lead director for place management with a remit including the likes of Operation Sparkle, is frank about the urgent need for the project.
“We’re all well aware that actually, if we put our hands on our hearts, the city centre has deteriorated such a lot over the last number of years and the time has come that we really do all have to get together and make the place a much nicer and more pleasant place to be for the benefit of all those who live, work, visit and invest in the city centre,” she said.
The BID team has identified key areas in the city centre where action will be taken. Julie is keen to stress that it is very much a team effort that will require the cooperation of everyone involved if it is to succeed.
“Some of the items can be delivered by the local authority, some of them can be delivered by the BID but we need some of them to be delivered by the businesses themselves and also the people who use the city centre can do their bit.”
She gave examples of the city council planting flowers in Bethesda Gardens and Tesco clearing up litter on the land around the supermarket.
“We want to end up with a city centre that we can all be proud of and that will help build on the quality investments that are already taking place in the area,” she said.
“We all want to come to the city centre to have a wonderful experience and a nice, clean, safe and secure environment so that we go home and think ‘I’ll go back again because that was a nice experience’.
“It all starts in March. Hopefully by everybody pulling together and doing their bit with Operation Sparkle we will achieve it and make the city centre great again.”
BID manager Richard Buxton will oversee the day to day running of Operation Sparkle and is keen to engage with the public as much as possible, including some quirky schemes to help win people over.
These will include cigarette ballot bins where people can use their discarded butts to vote for their favourite city football team and bright pink chewing gum collection balls with leftover gum recycled into usable items.
“We’re not just trying to demand that people keep our city clean, we’re having a bit of fun with that and helping the environment at the same time,” he said. “We’re trying to put some ideas out there about how the public can help us.”
“I’ve always been convinced that if you give something nice to someone they will treat it far better. If we do our part I firmly believe the public will do their part.”
Operation Sparkle officially begins on March 1 but Richard sees it as an ongoing project. He’s aiming to stage a Big Clean Up Weekend as soon as COVID-19 rules allow, and will be inviting the public, community groups and businesses to help.
He added: “We can produce a really nice area but if the public don’t respect that area then we’re going to struggle. But, that said, it’s up to us, the local authority and our partners to make that area nice.”
Operation Sparkle is part of a move to improve quality across all areas of the city centre, including attracting developers of high quality apartments, office spaces and pocket garden areas.
If people earning higher salaries are attracted to work and live in the city centre they’re more likely to spend some of their disposable income with city centre businesses.
In turn, if the city centre offers a high quality experience for visitors they’re likely to stay longer, spend more money with high street businesses and to visit more frequently.
Josef Bailey, owner of The Quarter Cafe in Piccadilly, firmly believes that offering a quality experience is key to running a thriving business.
“Everything about business is about customer experience and what they are receiving within your four walls. If that’s something positive they enjoy and engage with then they will spread the word and encourage other people to come,” he said.
“For us, return business and customer loyalty is really what sets the foundations for the future of a business.”
For Josef, offering a high quality visitor experience is the answer to encouraging people back into the city centre and supporting city centre businesses.
“One of the most important things is dwell time – how long we can engage our customers and keep them in the city centre. The longer they stay, the more the economy will thrive.
“Can we give them a quality shopping experience, a quality dining experience, a quality cultural experience? Can we do that consistently with lots of variations so that they come back time and time again and stay longer each time?
“Having quality hotels and high quality city centre residential accommodation is so important too – so that people are not just tripping in and out. High quality city centre apartments are a great thing for the city centre economy.”
As the city council cabinet member for housing and environment, and also a board member for the BID, Councillor Carl Edwards is a strong supporter of both Operation Sparkle and the increasing emphasis on quality for the city centre.
“We at the city council will help as much as we possibly can and will put in as much resource as we can possibly afford to get the city spick and span for when people come back in again,” he said.
“It’s a team effort, including members of the public. Members of the public are the first to point out to us when things are looking grotty. It’s good to be able to remind people that we all have a responsibility for our environment.”
He added: “A quality city centre experience is important as are quality accommodation, quality offices spaces and quality venues in the city centre.
“The expansion upwards in the city centre is lovely to see. We’re going to see some lovely city centre apartments in the very short term and other projects are in the pipeline.”
To find out more about Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID and its work visit www.stokeontrentcitycentre.co.uk