On Friday 10th July, Nicola Grant presented in the fourth webinar in a series for the High Street Tasks Force. This weeks webinar focused on the effective use of communication and branding to support the transformation of high streets. It was an honour to be asked to share what we were doing in Putney to an audience of five hundred place leaders listening in from across the world and thought it would be interesting to share here also.
Putney is most famous for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race held in early Spring every year which sadly was cancelled this year. This itself was a massive blow for our hospitality businesses who rely on that day to make significant amounts of income.
For those who don’t know; Putney is in South West London, within the Borough of Wandsworth. Putney is located on the River Thames with Putney Bridge going from Putney into London via Fulham. Putney Bridge was the second bridge to be built over the Thames in 1729.
Although Putney is just 6 miles from central London it feels miles away. Putney has lots of green space, lots of beautiful houses and has a strong community spirit. Putney is popular for exercising outdoors, especially for rowers, runners and cyclists.
Although a quote from 1903 we could not say it better if we tried:
“And thus we take leave of Putney, one of the pleasantest of the London suburbs, as well as the most accessible. The immense increase in the number of houses in late years testifies to its popularity; but there is still an almost unlimited extent of open ground which cannot be covered; and with wood and water, common and hill, there will always be an element of freshness and openness in Putney seldom to be obtained so near London.”
— J. C. Geikie, The Fascinations of London, 1903
Putney has a rich historical past.
“Robert the Ferryman of Putney” was mentioned in the household accounts of Edward I who reigned from 1272–1307 for taking the royal family across the Thames to Westminster.
Putney was the birthplace of Thomas Cromwell, made Earl of Essex by Henry VIII.
The Putney debates took place at St Marys Church, at the bottom of Putney High Street in October 1647 which profoundly influenced British politics.
Sticking with famous politicians:
William Pitt – PM 1783, and Clement Attlee PM 1945 to 1951 were both born in Putney
Nick Clegg, Deputy PM 2010-2015 lived here until he moved to America fairly recently.
Unsurprisingly we have had various world champion and olympic rowers trained and nurtured in Putney including Sophie Hosking, gold medal winner in the 2012 Olympic Lightweight Double Sculls, Mark Aldred, who competed for the Lightweight Men’s Four in Rio, and Jess Eddie, who won silver in Rio with the Women’s Eight.
With four world records, two Olympic gold medals, three Commonwealth titles, and wins in the World and European Championships, Daley Thompson is considered to be one of the greatest decathletes of all time and owns and runs a gym in Putney.
Actors and musicians – include Pierce Brosnan, Jason Flemyng, Grace Jones, and Simon Le Bon lives with his model wife Yasmin. Ronan Keating part owns a café in Putney although he has not yet agreed to do a concert for us!
Frequently talking about Putney in their publicity is comedian Jack Whitehall who lived in Putney growing up and his mother and father still live here. Michael and Hilary Whitehall turned on our Christmas lights last year and during Lockdown they have frequently tweeted about people not adhering to social distancing as the Putney Embankment looks like the French riviera.
Lastly, the cartoon character Mr Benn created by David Mckee in the seventies and aired on BBC up until the year 2000. David lived in Putney and based Mr Benns adventures in Putney. This image gives a great artistic impression of the Putney community.
Putney has amazing accessibility.
It is served by mainline railway trains to London Waterloo from Putney train station and by London Underground District line from East Putney, and Putney Bridge stations. It has sixteen bus routes through the town centre and seven night buses. Putney Pier is served by the River Bus to and from Blackfriars Millennium Pier.
Putney Bridge leads into Putney High Street, with Upper Richmond Road coming across in a T which is part of the TFL red route network.
In the London Plan Putney is identified as one of 35 major centres, the classification means it has a borough-wide catchment, contains over 50,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace and a relatively high proportion of comparison goods relative to convenience goods.
According to the 2011 census Putney has a population of 77,000 people with 46% of residents classified as higher “managerial & professional” socio-economic status. The average 3 bedroom house is £700,000
Vibrant Town Centre
With all this going for it you would expect it to be a vibrant town centre.
It was a great retail High Street of the 80s and 90s – as had no local competition, had a great range of independent boutiques in small units on PHS. Daytime trade was boosted by large office blocks along URR
It became a victim of its own success and the national chains all wanted to come and priced out the independents. It became a clone town of the early 2000’s and the loyal local residents started shopping in central London whilst commuting, online or in the improved local town centres.
Meanwhile permitted development rights changed the office blocks to residential losing vital daytime trade.
Car ownership increased. Putney High Street is the most direct route into London from the A3. It is a narrow road, with high buildings, and lots of traffic which results in poor air quality.
We have a number of absent landlords with substantial planning applications but sitting on properties with increasing vacancy and we have areas that look very run down.
It’s not all doom and gloom but we do have our challenges. As retail demand has reduced, we had a thriving night time economy pre-COVID with all the busy workers returning late at night wanting to eat and drink, and at weekend with large rowing events and regular Fulham football crowds.
Putney is in the final round of the Futures High Street fund with a vision of “how do we make Putney great again?”
To celebrate the rowing season towards the end of February we had a professional artist paint onto empty and operational shop windows with the theme of rowing and the River Thames – which although they were not appreciated by the rowing crowds as the races were cancelled they have been appreciated by our local residents on their daily exercise during lockdown, and are still brightening up the town centre
We had already ordered 14,000 reusable cups to launch on Boat Race Day and for the summer of 2020 for our pubs and bars. Instead of keeping them in storage until Boat race 2021 we have been giving them out to pubs and restaurants for them to use in their outside dining areas now that they have reopened. This saves businesses money in buying single use plastics whilst helping the environment.
We have always known Putney has narrow footpaths and have been working with Wandsworth Council over the last three years on a comprehensive programme of widening them. This work was mid way through as lockdown hit. We used the opportunity to put in temporary widening and sticking with our rowing theme we had playful social distancing stickers and queue management floor graphics made.
Within two weeks of lockdown we had joined shoppappy to help businesses without an online presence to continue to trade.
Finally, our Parklets – we actually ordered these pre-lockdown as part of our aim to make the town centre more green and welcoming. We did not have any prior knowledge of how advantageous these would be if a pandemic hit. We posted this photo on Tuesday this week and it has been our most popular social media post ever.
In the middle of April Nicola was on a BID Foundation zoom call and Polly explained how the Maybe Platform could make managing social media easier, and ensure you were listening to the conversations that matter about your town centre. We are a small team and due to lack of time although we regularly posted on our social media channels we were not sure we necessarily listened and engaged as much as we could or should. So that evening Nicola opened a Maybe account and started uploading our BID businesses and Putney influencers onto the platform and very quickly in one place could see what they were all saying. Without being a technical wizard t is so easy to use and navigate. Anna then joined the training calls that Maybe were offering and we went from there.
We knew that people were using social media more than ever before and that as the BID we were privy to lots of information that people wanted to know – such as which businesses are open, which take aways are serving on which days, etc..
As the weeks progressed we were thinking about the change in people’s lifestyles and the new way of working as an opportunity for Putney. We have always known we had lots of local residents who commuted into town and did not have time to use the local facilities apart from possibly at weekends. Thinking about the increase in desire to support local businesses, we want to make sure that people do continue to support them when life returns to some sort of normality. These people working from home for the foreseeable future and possibly forever how do we attract them into Putney?
One of the ways was via social media using local businesses and residents to help us tell the story of all the great aspects of Putney under the hashtag #ShareourPutney
We launched the campaign a month ago and there have been 350 posts using the hashtag, with engagement of over 3000. Our own social media followers have gone up by nearly 20%.
However, it has infact also assisted in achieving one of our principal aims in our business plan of ‘helping businesses work better together’ When we have discussed this in the past we have focused on physical networking, and encouraging giving each other business when possible, and deemed it more relevant for our office sector. However, through the #shareourputney campaign we have introduced to each other a community of independent businesses with the same aims. We have business owners who have told us they have owned businesses in Putney for 20 years and never felt so much a part of Putney. These businesses are now recommending each other to their customers both physically and virtually. We strongly believe that we have helped them through this pandemic, both emotionally and financially and made them stronger for the future. By sharing each others content they are reaching so many more people, all predominantly local which can only benefit them in the long run.
Next steps for us is a survey – what do these new people want in their town centre? How can we get them to come in on a daily basis. Is it work space, specialist shops, coffee shops? We will soon be launching it on social media.
We have always run an employee loyalty scheme for people who work in Putney to get daytime deals and special offers, to encourage daytime spend. We are now looking to expand this to residents working from home, maybe a loyalty scheme where they collect points to spend back into Putney.
Social media has also extended conversations for us with other sectors. A young local artist, Joe Rashbrook saw the #shareourPutney and interacted with us which started a conversation which has resulted in him now working on an amazing welcome piece of artwork on an ugly building wall just as you enter Putney which ticks off another of the aims from our business plan.
The Maybe platform has really made our social media conversations much more meaningful whilst reducing our workload.