Over and above the media coverage of the spectacularly brilliant South Bank fireworks, two news stories caught my attention amid the annual blitz of New Year messages, back to work emails, and the general reconnection with the external world after the festive break. The first is that London’s population is now at an all-time high, exceeding 8.6 million people – a figure last reached in 1939, on the eve of war. The second is that Waterloo station is now close to hitting 200 million annual passengers (tube and train combined) – which easily makes it Europe’s busiest transport terminal.
The dynamics that have resulted in these extraordinary statistics underpin London’s success as a global power and a world city of immense influence and status. This transformation has been both profound and significant for many neighbourhoods and places across the capital – none more so, perhaps, than here on London’s South Bank. In 1991 – when London’s population was at a low of 6.6 million and many areas were suffering from a combination of poor environments, little investment and a raft of social issues, most notably homelessness and unemployment – a group of South Bank businesses came together to form South Bank Employers’ Group, and to start the process of renewal and the reinvention of this special place.
2016 is the 25th anniversary of SBEG’s creation and formation. Whilst noting and celebrating many of our achievements since then, we will continue to look forward and ahead, to ensure that the South Bank maintains its reputation as a dynamic, vibrant and safe area, and is able to manage many of the pressures it now faces from rising numbers of visitors, new developments that are underway or planned, and other aspects that come with a successful visitor and business economy – particularly the need to invest in a high quality public realm, and in all forms of infrastructure. This is a clear message for the new Mayor and the GLA, and is one that SBEG and its members will impress on the main candidates in the run up to May’s election.
Members remain at the core of everything that we do. With the establishment of the South Bank Business Improvement District (BID), many more businesses and employers are now engaged in initiatives and projects that benefit the neighbourhood, including our enhanced security patrol which now has two Metropolitan Police Officers dedicated to South Bank. I know that this is a service that all South Bank businesses value, especially after the tragic events in Paris late last year, and we’ll continue to put effort and resource into all aspects of security, including organising appropriate training for members.
Additionally, the BID has greatly strengthened the resources and capability of our marketing offer. With input from the South Bank Marketing Group and BID members, we are looking to invest more in audience insight and how best to harness technology – the idea of the South Bank as a free Wi-Fi zone has appeal to many members and we’ll be testing its feasibility. This will build on the success of our web and social media campaigns – analysis of recent performance confirms our position as one of London’s leading destination marketing groups.
Increasingly, members of SBEG and the BID are working together through various groups, networks and forums and we’ll be supporting these throughout the year with a new member of staff and a renewed focus on the Employability Group and SBEG’s Associate Member and Property Groups. We warmly welcome Ogilvy and Mather Group to the neighbourhood – they start their move to Sea Containers House this month, and we are delighted that they have become a member of SBEG. Their move underlines the creative dynamism of the South Bank and its unique qualities as a place.
No doubt the year will bring some challenges, as many partners adjust to funding cuts and reappraise their priorities. However, our ambitions for the South Bank remain clear: investing in and maintaining a first class public realm; marketing and promoting the neighbourhood as London’s leading destination for visitors; ensuring that the neighbourhood is safe and welcoming for all; and delivering opportunities for local residents to access the many benefits of the area’s success, including jobs. SBEG and the BID will be leading and undertaking a number of new initiatives this year, and the team is looking forward to working with you on these in the coming months.
With all best wishes for 2016.
Nic and the SBEG team
Please note: In order to make the best use of existing resources and expertise, the BID does not directly employ staff. The South Bank Employers’ Group is the delivery agent for all the work of the South Bank BID.