Southampton’s BID shines spotlight on two women transforming the city’s high street

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07 March 2023

For International Women's Day on Wednesday 8th March, GO! Southampton, the city’s Business Improvement District (BID), is shining a spotlight on two women who are transforming the city’s high street for the better.

Carol Bowers, Business Crime Reduction Administrator at the BID, and Laura Read, Centre Manager for Westquay are both making huge strides in boosting the city through its retail and entertainment offerings, as well as significantly improving safety measures for residents, visitors and local businesses.

Former Police Constable Carol joined the BID and help set up the Southampton Business Crime Partnership (SBCP) in 2019. The initiative was introduced to connect Southampton’s police, council and other important partners to share crime intelligence and collaborate against anti-social behaviour. The SBCP is an award-winning partnership and accredited against national standards.

With her wealth of experience working for Southampton Central Police for 17 years, Carol has made a major impact in reducing crime on the city’s streets via the SBCP scheme.

The initiative makes use of a crime-reporting portal (DISC), radio scheme, and security team for businesses and the police to build cases against prolific offenders in the city. Through the hard work of Carol and her team, the SBCP has helped to recover more than £286,000 of stolen stock from local businesses since its launch in July 2020 and currently has more than 900 named individuals on its database. They have succeeded in securing eight behavioural orders on the city’s most prolific perpetrators

Carol has also recently spearheaded the campaign behind Southampton’s successful Purple Flag win, which recognises safety on the city’s streets at night. GO! Southampton worked alongside Southampton City Council’s Violence Reduction Unit to introduce a night-time patrol of the BID area by two personnel on Fridays and Saturdays from 9pm to 5am. These measures were funded by the Government’s Safety of Women and Girls at Night, a grant that also allowed the BID to extend their radio network to night-time venues and hotels in the city centre.

Improving the safety of women and girls in Southampton is of particular interest to Carol as well as continuing the work around Purple Flag and the new Night-Time Economy Strategy, which has been recently commissioned by the BID. Carol and the BID are striving to continue their work with key stakeholders to implement the strategy recommendations for Southampton’s evening and night-time economy to be a safe and welcoming place for all to live, work and socialise.

In the meantime, Carol and the Business Crime Reduction team help to facilitate Safer Business Action Days in the city, run by the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC), in which partner agencies and private security firms go around the city centre to provide reassurance and prevention patrols as well as engage with the local business community.

Carol said: “With the hard work and commitment from the team and local businesses the SBCP has gone from strength to strength.

“In the last year, we’ve been the recipient of two awards – the ‘Outstanding Partnership’ award at the Town & City Management Industry Award, and Police and Crime Commissioner Business Crime Prevention Excellence Award, for our partnership work for the Community Engagement and Action Group (CEAG). Which we are immensely proud of.

“We look forward to continuing to work with partners and businesses for a safe city experience for all of Southampton to enjoy.”

Another woman changing Southampton’s city centre is Laura Read, General Manager of Westquay, board director at GO! Southampton and Interim Chair of the board of Trustees for Southampton Culture Trust.

Committed to transforming how shoppers experience the city, Laura has helped elevate Westquay to be more than just a retail destination, recognising that visitors are after more than just a traditional retail experience.

Alongside her colleagues Laura has worked hard to introduce more dining and leisure offers to Westquay, as well as continuing to expand the popular events calendar with both large scale productions and smaller charity and community led activity.

Laura said: “I started this role just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and within six weeks we went into lockdown. It was a challenging few months as I faced the need to furlough staff members and meet the city’s stakeholders online rather than building those relationships in person. There was a lot to take in.

“Through the hard work and determination of everyone involved though, we worked through a difficult time, and then it was business as usual. However, it was vital that Westquay didn’t rest on its laurels. Something had to change in order for us to survive.”

As Southampton began to find its feet after the pandemic, Laura searched for different offerings for the city, and began to draw her attention to events that would set Westquay apart from its competitors.

She said: “We always try to stay one step ahead. We are constantly looking at what people want right now, how they spend their money and how they want to socialise. And with this in mind, we wanted to make the shopping experience more experiential.

Over the course of the last two years, Westquay has seen events return to pre-pandemic level. The Southampton Boat Show was welcomed back in 2021 and 2022 and in the summer of 2021 Westquay hosted its first post-pandemic large scale production event, a unique 400m Labyrinth, with an impressive 16.5m helter skelter at its centre, providing entertainment for shoppers and their families.

Visitors also made good use of regular pop-up bars with big screens showing national sporting and cultural events. There was also a roller disco, an ice rink, and even the chance to snap a selfie with an authentic Allosaurus fossil – aka, Big Sara.

But it isn’t just large-scale events that Laura is focusing on.

“We want people to feel like Westquay is part of the city, and not its own entity, so it’s hugely important to give the local community a voice where we can. We do this by welcoming local groups and organisations to come in and offer talks or set up a stand. It’s proved hugely successful, and it feels great to be able to give them a spotlight.

“We hope that we can continue this for the long term to make sure there is always something new to experience in Southampton City Centre.’”

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