Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King
John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.
Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.
What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?
Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.
This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.
The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.
And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?
The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.
The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.
Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.
We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?
We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.
It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.
As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?
Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.
We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.
November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.
The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?
These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.
As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.
Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.
The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?
The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).
The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.
We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.
We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.
We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.
You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?
BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.
The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.
You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?
This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.
Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.
Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?
Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.
We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.
Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.
If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?
I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.
The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!
For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre
(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)