Three North West places are fighting back amidst continuing restrictions in the region with gift card programmes that are designed to support high street recovery. Knowsley, Chester and Preston will all introduce Town and City Gift Cards from Scottish fintech Miconex in November.
Each gift card will be branded to the town/city and can be redeemed with businesses in that place, encouraging residents and visitors to shop local and locking in spend to local economies in Chester, Knowsley and Preston.
As a prepaid Mastercard, the gift card works like local currency. The Town and City Gift Cards programme received the award for the best use of prepaid at September’s Incentive Awards. Over 50 places around the UK and Ireland have Town and City Gift Card programmes. Preston, Knowsley and Chester will be the first for the North West.
The North West Business Activity Index was 56.8 in September, above the 50.0 ‘no change’ mark and indicating a rise in business activity. Growth was down slightly on August (57.2) attributed to the end of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme. Business performance in the North West was similar to that of the UK as a whole.
In Chester, the Business Improvement District will be using the Chester Gift Card as part of its bid to encourage residents to support the city with over 100 businesses on board to receive the gift card as payment including Storyhouse and Chester Grosvenor. Carl Critchlow, BID Manager, says businesses in the city are reeling from “restriction whiplash.”
“Because of our position right on the border with Wales, around 50% of our shoppers come from Wales. When the Welsh restrictions were introduced, 25% of hospitality bookings were cancelled. Customer confidence has been hammered but one thing we have noticed is that the Christmas season has started earlier. Businesses need our support more than ever.”
Chester introduced its gift card with a 7 week Christmas campaign including the creation of a sentimental video, following a Grandad’s journey from his home to the high street where he does his Christmas shopping using the gift card and spreads festive cheer to his family, friends and even strangers. The message in Chester will be “say no to Amazon, say yes to Chester” suggests Mr Critchlow:
“The feedback to the introduction of the card has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s about packaging the whole city as one organism, and how all of the businesses work together to give a robust experience of Chester. People like to say the high street is dying but it’s more that it’s evolving.”
In Knowsley, the scheme is part of a £120,000 Shop Local Investment Programme. The new Knowsley Town Centres Gift Card can be used in the three main towns in the borough of Knowsley; Huyton, Kirkby and Prescot.
Councillor Tony Brennan, Knowsley Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said the Knowsley Town Centres Gift Card was integral to their masterplan for the future of its town centres up to 2030:
“Our town centres are changing and facilitating that change is top of our agenda. We are keen to create diverse and attractive visitor destinations that shoppers and residents can enjoy and take a sense of pride in. The introduction of the Knowsley Town Centres Gift Card will contribute towards this aim.
“In Kirkby, the council recently acquired the town centre from St Modwen and we are creating a new retail development anchored by a Morrisons superstore, with plans to also create a cinema scheme. Prescot Town Centre is a stone’s throw away from Knowsley Safari Park which has over 600,000 visitors each year. It is also home to a range of independent retailers and a range of new businesses including bars and restaurants have opened their doors in Huyton Village Centre.
“One of the ways we’ll use the new Knowsley Town Centres Gift Card is in the development of our night time economy. In Prescot, The Shakespeare North Playhouse scheduled for completion in 2022, will put Prescot on the map and complete the UK’s Shakespearean triangle of London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Prescot. Not many people know that Shakespeare had links to the town.
“With the new gift card, we have the building blocks for creating vibrant towns. We also have the opportunity to put money directly back into our town centres, and we’ll be using the Knowsley Town Centres Gift Card for prize draws, competitions and to encourage our large business community to use it for rewards and incentives for their staff. It’s our job to create the sustainable town centres of the future.”
Prior to the lockdown in England, Preston in Lancashire was under the toughest tier 3 restrictions with pubs and bars only able to open to serve drinks as part of a meal. Businesses such as soft play areas were closed. The Preston Gift Card was introduced in November. Jonathan Halton from Preston BID said the Preston Gift Card will help the city in its recovery efforts:
“It’s crucially important that we work to encourage loyal locals to keep spend circulating in their city centre economy, whilst also providing a wide choice of where to spend their well-earned money.
“The Preston Gift Card will provide shoppers with a great local alternative to existing national cards. We’re absolutely committed to helping to drive local spend and consistently promoting a ‘shop local’ message. Our focus remains on helping city centre businesses to recover from the Covid crisis, and flourish beyond.”
New Town and City Gift Card programmes will be introduced in November in Ireland, the North East, South East, Scotland and Yorkshire. Managing director of Miconex Colin Munro said business leaders around the UK and Ireland are seeking ways to proactively protect their high streets:
“Town and city centres are undeniably changing but what Knowsley, Chester and Preston are doing is paving the way for a new type of centre fuelled by collaboration between places, businesses, residents and visitors. The shop local movement was strengthened by lockdown and continues to be strengthened by the additional restrictions placed on our towns and cities. Through technology we can harness the power of the shop local sentiment that exists in towns and cities and give people an actionable way to support where they live.”