I’M lucky enough to live and run a business in Ilkley, amongst a thriving professional services sector, with access to a wide range of independent and national chain shops, and a great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants.

Ilkley was voted the UK’s Best Place to Live by the Sunday Times in 2022, and it’s not hard to see why. We’ve got rolling hills, beautiful moorland, a fascinating history dating further back than the Romans, great schools and lots of successful community groups; Ilkley is full of bright people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get things done.

Around 15 years ago, I started Bluehoop Digital in Ilkley because I saw an opportunity to offer web development and search engine optimisation to this thriving community. Fifteen years later, buoyed up by Ilkley’s growth and prosperity, we’ve retained a great customer base in Ilkley, as well as offering specialist digital services to businesses around the world.

Having engaged and collaborated with many business owners in and around Ilkley, I’ve gained an understanding of shared challenges and strengths. There’s a strong self-reliance needed to keep a business going through tough times, but the support and collaboration of other businesses is equally important.

After several years as a voluntary director, last year I was asked to become Chair of the Ilkley Business Improvement District (BID). The BID is here to deliver projects for the benefit of the business community and bring local businesses within the town together. The organisation is entirely independent of both the district council and the town council. It is funded by local businesses and led by local businesses, meaning town centre businesses can directly influence the projects they think are most important.

Given Ilkley’s renowned sense of community and a strong inclination towards volunteering, it doesn’t surprise me that the Ilkley BID successfully draws a diverse mix of local entrepreneurs and representatives from national chains onto the board of Directors, all of whom generously contribute their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. In return for their time, the Directors get a supportive business environment, a chance to network with their business peers, and a chance to make a change to the issues that affect their business sectors locally.

The BID is funded by businesses paying a small percentage of their business rateable value. This money is then ring-fenced for use only in the BID area, and whilst the local authority collect the funds on behalf of the BID, the decisions about how the money is spent are made by local businesses, with all BID member businesses regularly asked for feedback and suggestions.

On top of the BID levy income, Ilkley BID has raised grant funding of around £330,000, so in total we’ve invested over £1 million to help Ilkley businesses over the past five years. At the top of our minds all the time is spending those funds in a way that will best benefit the businesses of Ilkley.

A few highlights of projects delivered over the past five years have been; the Ilkley Gift Card, to encourage local spend and to reinforce the ‘shop local’ message, development of the Discover Ilkley brand, promoting BID businesses and town centre events by extensive social media activity and a popular website, PR business support, free town centre Wi-Fi, and sponsorship of events bringing people to Ilkley like Ilkley Carnival and Ilkley Literature Festival.

The BID has also strived to maintain Ilkley as an attractive place to do business. Extending the popular Christmas lights, deep cleaning town centre paved areas, supporting the Station Plaza flower beds and providing bunting for key occasions like the King’s Coronation all make Ilkley a wonderful place to visit and shop and help attract staff to Ilkley.

As well as representing Ilkley’s business interests with Bradford Council, Ilkley Town Council and many community groups, we’ve also offered practical business support like free professional photography, business networking events, an Ilkley Watch anti-crime scheme and we’ve provided a free, newly renovated state-of-the-art meeting room for businesses.

As we approach the end of our first five-year term, we’re focused on securing support for the next phase of the BID journey. The upcoming ballot is a crucial moment for Ilkley businesses to voice support for the BID’s plans. With over £1 million invested in Ilkley during our first term, we have demonstrated our ability to listen to and meet the needs of local businesses. Our achievements have laid a strong foundation for future growth, but the challenges of the current economic climate highlight the importance of continued collaboration and support. The proposed business plan for the next five years is a blueprint for ensuring that Ilkley remains not only a great place to live but also a vibrant place to do business. The support of approximately 320 businesses and organisations in Ilkley will be critical in this effort.

The BID’s role in supporting local businesses is more crucial than ever. I am confident in our ability to continue making a positive impact on Ilkley town centre. Together, we can continue to make Ilkley the best place to live, work, visit and do business.

* Ian White is Chair of Ilkley BID and owner of Bluehoop Digital.