Building on a culture of partnership working, Colchester Borough Council has intensified existing partnerships and networks to facilitate the area’s recovery from the pandemic.
As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt across the national and local economies, particularly on key sectors such as hospitality, retail and construction, ensuring the survival and recovery of local businesses was key to supporting the wider long-term plans of the area. The council also wanted to sustain confidence in Colchester as a place to invest and provide employment opportunities and promote the place as a good quality of life for the people who live, work, study and visit Colchester. Therefore, developing a skills pipeline in the local population and retaining skilled workers was a key challenge for the council to address as it developed its recovery plans.
The council recognized that maintaining consumer confidence would be key to their recovery as without spend there is no economy. Therefore, to sustain confidence, the council undertook a three-pronged approach to facilitate the recovery from the pandemic to facilitate support for businesses whilst maintaining spend.
- Support for businesses: It was recognized that a pragmatic approach would be needed to support businesses and therefore the council provided a holistic support package to local businesses. This included the distribution of government COVID-19 support grants to businesses at speed and funding business advice, support and guidance through a local business support agency COLBEA.
- Undertaking projects to support consumer demand: The council worked in partnership with Our Colchester BID and other Essex Councils to offer independent retailers’ access to an online platform, Clickit Local which offers Amazon-style shopping from local retailers. To support retailer recovery, the council also invested in short term initiatives to increase footfall such as funding improvement projects by installing Parklets on the High Street to increase footfall and encourage longer dwell time. They also carried out marketing campaigns by installing branded street archways whilst simultaneously undertaking the regeneration of two town squares.
- Sustaining strategic investment programmes: A number of key projects were launched during this period which offered both short term initiatives to boost recovery as well as long term initiatives. These include Northern Gateway, a £175m leisure and residential destination development as well as the £11 million expansion and renovation of Mercury Theatre. Furthermore, to boost digital connectivity particularly amidst the increasing transition to hybrid and remote working, £3.45m Ultrafast gigabit broadband digital infrastructure was installed. As well as these initiatives the council successfully secured a £19.2m Town Deal Government grant which is enabling the council to continue to develop a pipeline of projects to facilitate the longer-term regeneration plans.
Sustaining support for strategic investment projects has supported the construction sector and supply chain. It has also helped diversify the area’s offer to consumers and residents by creating new destinations and offerings for people in and around Colchester in the culture and leisure space thereby increasing footfall.
It has also shown leadership and demonstrated confidence in the medium to longer term through the successful town deal grant from government. The investment in digital infrastructure also allows the place to compete in terms of attracting new business investment and a skilled population particularly amidst the transition to remote working and hybrid working patterns brought on by the pandemic. This puts Colchester on the best footing to survive and recover and enables the place to compete effectively. Collective confidence is strong as the economy emerges.
Collaborations and partnerships have strengthened and there is a renewed interest in working together. Pipeline projects are coming forward and new aspirations are feeding a future pipeline. This is enabling a future focus for place and people. There is significant risk to the leisure, tourism and hospitality sectors and there may well be business losses but generally Colchester and its businesses are on the best footing to survive and recover.