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Together we are stronger: Ruth Duston OBE, OC


The COVID-19 national emergency is a rapidly changing crisis impacting all our lives. In a little over a week we have moved from a largely ‘business as usual’ strategy being adopted by the Government to this week, getting used to living in a society with the strictest restrictions on our personal liberties since the second world war…and there may still be more to come. 

It’s seems hard to overstate how huge an impact these changes will have on our country, our businesses, families and loved ones. 

The recent economic support packages announced by the Government indicated the scale of the emergency being faced due to COVID-19. Our politicians are increasingly talking of being on a war footing, not only to fight the deadly virus but to help everyone survive these extraordinary times.

Through my BIDs and partnerships across London I represent thousands of businesses, large and small across numerous sectors. No one is untouched by this crisis. Of course I welcome the economic support being offered – the £330 billion initial package announced by the Chancellor last week is significant (it equates 15% of our economy) but there is no sugar-coating this….many businesses will suffer, some will go under and very many jobs will be lost. 

So in these deeply challenging times, as business leaders, what can we do and where can we find hope?

I strongly believe that evoking the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ of the 1940s is not just a nostalgic comfort blanket, it is going to be the key to us all getting through this. 

We must pull together and think creatively. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I am seeing this is absolutely the case in our dealings with our business communities in recent days. 

Many have moved quickly to provide enhanced online offerings and we are proudly supporting these endeavours. Our work to support local businesses, employees and our wider community need not cease – we just need to adapt to changing circumstances. In business as usual times, BIDs and business partnerships are playing an increasingly vital role supporting businesses, promoting growth and working with partners to create vibrant, thriving places. In times of crisis, our work is arguably even more important. 

I am working closely with partners across London, including local authorities, the Met Police, MPs, the GLA and many others to coordinate a response to support communities. Many of you will know that I am a great believer in partnership and believe the best outcomes arise from collective action. This is so true in the current crisis – we are all in this together. 

But beyond this vital day to day support, where is the hope, and how can we be constructive and prepare well as this crisis evolves and ultimately, ends? 

When the shock of these latest restrictions eases and we settle into the new normal, we must seek to learn from these experiences. Across industry we have talked a lot in recent times about changing trends in the workplace and the move towards more flexible and remote working. This is not the pilot we would have wished for, but we can use this time to identify where our systems need improvement. Perhaps one of the legacies of this emergency situation will be a new and innovate approach to working practices? There are potentially significant benefits for peoples’ wellbeing, air quality and pressure on transport infrastructure. It may seem incongruous to ponder these issues at the moment, but they are important and we should seek to find the positives in these very dark days. 

But crucially, we must be working now for the recovery that is to come. Our business communities will need significant support when business starts to get back to normal, whenever this may be. 

BIDs and business partnerships are well placed to take a lead role in the campaign to support London’s recovery, working with partners to help stimulate growth, boost confidence and provide vital guidance and advice. Funds that would have been invested in events and programmes in the immediate months have already been held back and these will be ready to invest in a campaign to kick start the recovery. 

We stand ready to continue to be a great source of stability and continuity.  Custodians, a steady helping hand, a protector, an advocate and cheer-leader…BIDs have many roles and we carry each out with commitment and a passion for supporting enterprise and knowing that together we can be stronger. 

Now we must prepare to take on the role of our lives.