15 Dec Profile – Rebecca Handley, Head of Place
Interview by Mark Ferguson.
Rebecca, you’re Head of Place for the Knightsbridge and King’s Road Partnership BIDs. What does this role involve?
As Head of Place, I’m the person responsible for the physical environment, so anything that you deal with outside your front door. This covers security, cleaning, public realm, and transport access. Ultimately it’s about creating a pleasant experience for residents, workers and visitors and making sure that the quality of the environment adds to the experience.
Who are the main audiences you support?
My main responsibility is to our business community in Knightsbridge and King’s Road. Landlords and landowners in the area really want to invest in the future viability of these areas. We also have a strong residential population who are very engaged with what we do, in King’s Road and Knightsbridge so it’s really important that we can improve the environment for residents as well as our business community.
Tell me about your background?
I’ve worked for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) for the past 12 years. This is my fourth BID area. In my last role, I was Operations Director for the BID in Southampton, looking after the entire city. Coming here it’s great to have really defined geographical area that we can make improvements to.
I’m also trained and have a certificate in BID management, and I’ve recently completed my Senior Leaders Master’s Degree Apprenticeship at Solent University. This now means I’m a chartered manager which gives me additional leadership experience that I can apply to the role.
My undergraduate degree is in tourism management, which is very much about place. I started off as Tourist Information Centre Manager in my first BID, progressing to Visitor Communications Manager, then went into economic development and focused on attracting inward investment before moving on to operations.
I’ve had quite a varied history in BIDs and by having these different roles you gain a clear understanding of what needs to be done to create a vibrant destination. It’s all about getting the basics and the environment right. Then you can attract more visitors to a place and actually raise the profile of the location by adding all of the events and marketing.
What does the day-to-day work of Head of Place involve?
Primarily it’s about building strong working relationships with our strategic partners, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police.
This helps us maximize the value of services that are delivered to benefit of the business community. Liaising with key stakeholders to make sure the business voice is heard and recognised is very important to enhancing our places.
It’s also about making improvements to the area. BIDs always bring additionality to a location, which involves looking at what the baseline provision for our partners is and saying ‘actually, we want to see a higher quality of standards and services.’
This means looking at the current position and identifying opportunities to enhance the place and working with partners to try and achieve this. It’s important in my role that partnerships are strong because we’re looking at shared spaces and need to ensure everyone involved is aligned.
We also need to communicate effectively with our members and the residents because ultimately, when we’re making improvements, they have to be informed by the needs of our partners.
What are you supporting BID member businesses with at the moment?
We’re obviously early days in terms of the BIDs set-up, but what’s been really evident since I’ve been here is the passion and the ambition of our board, that has residential, landlord and business representation on it, along with the local authorities.
We are behaving like we’ve been around for a lot longer because of the expertise we have access to and our connections locally. This means that people already understand the place really well and we can have been able to hit the ground running and make a difference.
For King’s Road, I’m responsible for the quality environment pillar of our strategy. For Knightsbridge, I’m responsible for the driving transformational change. Some of these schemes are naturally going to take time, but there are some quick wins where we’ve been work with our partners to make an immediate difference.
One example of this is that we introduced our Street Team from the beginning of the BIDs and that’s provided additional resilience to our business community. There’s a real opportunity for those quick wins to make a positive experience for people that are working here.
I’m particularly proud of our work leading towards Christmas. We’ve obviously got enhanced Christmas lighting for both King’s Road and Knightsbridge. We’re getting the first Christmas lights for Knightsbridge. In the King’s Road, we were able to extend the schemes that have been in place previously, all the way down to the west end.
These visible changes really enhance the area. I think the biggest focus for me at the moment is looking at waste management and cleansing. The relationships we’ve been able to establish with our other partners, especially across the two local authorities, to develop joint-working approaches have been a really positive start.
How would you describe the role of place marketing for the BIDs?
Place marketing is about positioning the destination to meet the desired catchment’s needs. Ultimately, a destination may not serve every customer. It’s about identifying opportunities to amplify messages and making a statement that we want to celebrate all of the wonderful businesses we have in our districts.
For Knightsbridge, this means trying to grow the international market. For the King’s Road, there’s a rare opportunity to celebrate heritage and make the area a real tourist attraction. We’ve got a really wonderful mix of tenants and businesses with a lot of character to showcase.
There’s been a lot of political change in recent months. How has this impacted the work of the BIDs?
I think it’s really important with BIDs that we respond to our businesses’ needs. The advantage of a Business Improvement District is that it’s flexible to respond to the changing environment and actually making sure that our businesses have the best environment to have a viable business and trade effectively.
We’re quite fortunate as an area, withstanding quite a lot of the challenges being faced across the UK because we have a really strong, loyal catchment and supportive customer base, but it’s also about looking at opportunities to grow, the experience of people when they visit, and ensuring they have positive perceptions of the city and want to return.
We want to influence and lobby to make sure our businesses’ voices are heard when key decisions are happening. Obviously, tax-free shopping, a campaign we’ve been actively involved in supporting is one example of making sure that business is at the forefront of the decisions we make and influencing other parties.