It has been wonderful to see our town centres coming back to life again over the past few weeks, writes Southwark Council leader Kieron Williams…
Southwark’s high streets are one of the many things that make our borough so special. From Peckham to the Blue, London Bridge to Lordship Lane, Walworth to Dulwich Village, Camberwell to Nunhead and Canada Water to Herne Hill, they offer something for everyone.
That’s why in Southwark we have been so determined to support them through this pandemic and beyond. Since March 2020, we have distributed more than £130 million in business grants and business rate relief to local businesses, to keep them going through lockdown and protect local jobs. We have pulled out all the stops to get this money out as fast as possible. Putting our own council money in to fill the gaps in nationally government support.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been out visiting and talking to local traders and community members about the things we need to do next to make sure our highstreets can continue to thrive. I’ve taken our chief executive and council officers down to Rye Lane, spent time talking to traders in the Blue, been on a walkabout with businesses in London Bridge and Bankside and spent the afternoon in East Dulwich with ward councillors talking to traders along Lordship Lane.
It has been great to see some of the quick changes we have made working. We have allowed more than 250 businesses to use nearby outside spaces to set up tables and chairs to serve customers in the most COVID-secure ways. As well as offering free safety visits and assessments to allow local businesses to display our new COVID-19 safety accreditation to give customers the confidence they need to return. Now we are looking at the improvements we need to make next.
I’m delighted to say that on June 15 we launched our new High Streets Recovery Fund. Businesses and local voluntary organisations can bid for between £1,000 and £25,000 to support an idea that will help improve and revitalise our high streets. Attracting more people back to Southwark’s high streets and helping local small and medium-sized businesses to thrive.
Anyone can apply to the fund, but ideas will be more likely to be chosen if they support at least two of six key goals:
- To create healthy and safe high streets, not just in terms of COVID, but also in terms of accessibility and promotion of healthy goods and services.
- To create a greener town centre, improving the environment and reducing carbon emissions.
- To support cultural events and celebrate the diversity of our borough
- To make our high streets more sustainable, accessible and well connected
- To improve our digital connectivity in our high streets and town centres
- To support the Council’s Southwark Stands Together programme; increasing diversity, reducing inequalities and tackling racism
I look forward to seeing some fantastic projects coming through from high streets across our borough.
Our new High Streets Recovery Fund comes on top of the major investments we already had planned for our town centres pre pandemic. For example, July will see the completion of over £2million of investment in the Blue Market in Bermondsey, supported by mayor of London Sadiq Khan. With revamped shopfronts, new walkway to Bermondsey Station, murals and a new clock tower will help draw in new customers from across the borough. The opening of a new cinema and multi-arts space will really transform the market and make it a much more attractive place to shop and relax.
Southwark also continues to support the community infrastructure in our town centres too. For example, across London we have seen libraries close their doors. By contracts in Southwark we have opened four new libraries in the last decade, at Canada Water, Camberwell, Grove Vale and, most recently, our brand new Southwark Cultural Centre and Walworth Library on Walworth Road. All providing quality spaces to learn, work, relax and be inspired.
We are not out of the woods yet, and there is still a long way to go until all our local businesses get back on their feet. Southwark Council will continue to do everything we can to support our high streets and town centres.