Businesses plan to invest in Sheffield city centre and make it Alive After Five

Sheffield city centre ambassadors Phil Pix and Jason Warner with Richard Eyre, head of city centre management and major events.
Sheffield city centre ambassadors Phil Pix and Jason Warner with Richard Eyre, head of city centre management and major events.
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Business leaders are drawing up a plan to breathe new life into Sheffield city centre during the early-evening ‘dead zone’.

The campaign, backed by private rather than public money, aims to keep visitors in shops, bars and restaurants between 5pm and 7pm, a time when footfall traditionally drops off.

Sheffield BID manager Diane Jarvis

Sheffield BID manager Diane Jarvis

Named Alive After Five, it is being led by the Sheffield Business Improvement District, BID.

The aim is to persuade more of the 35,000 to 40,000 people who commute into the city centre daily to stay in the shops, pubs and restaurants after 5pm.

According to manager Diane Jarvis, it could have a ‘transformational’ effect on the city centre.

“There’s huge commercial opportunity in focusing our investment on that period,” she said.

STOCK - Sheffield Peace Gardens at night.

STOCK - Sheffield Peace Gardens at night.

“If we do have the resources to keep going, at some point that goes to being business as usual.”

The BID is made up of businesses from all sectors. Diane said: “We have seen an opportunity to develop the early evening economy.

“There’s huge commercial opportunity in focusing our investment on that period from 5pm to 7pm or 8pm.”

The Alive After Five campaign will launch in the autumn. The specifics are still being drawn up. But the key point has its basis in business.

“BID is funded by businesses for the benefit of businesses,” said Diane. “This is where we can make quite a significant difference. For every pound we spend, what return on the investment can we get?”

A similar scheme funded by the public purse has been tried before, with little long-term success.

But Diane believes Alive After Five could be the BID’s lasting legacy.

She said: “Businesses still remember the original campaign called Sheffield Live. But that ran out of steam. It didn’t have the financial resources.

“If we do have the resources to keep going, at some point that goes to being business as usual.”

She added: “It’s about longevity. It’s putting in place activity that’s going to last until 2020 and measuring that economically, and learning as we go.

“But we need to go big and stay big. All the businesses need to accept that it will take time to generate a return on our investment.”

Many bars and restaurants already offer their own early-evening incentives, such as food and drink deals. But BID aims to think beyond that.

“It’s very much about changing perceptions as much as anything,” said Diane.

“We don’t have that culture here in Sheffield. It’s about changing attitudes and perceptions over a longer period of time.

“We are working with our businesses to look at what that proposition could be.

“A lot of bars and restaurants already do things to attract people in. Alive After Five is an idea that the businesses can work together. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Getting retailers working with the food and drink sector is also a key aim. Longer opening hours to keep people in the city centre is an obvious early suggestion.

Diane said: “We need to have discussions with the retail sector. There is interest but each retailer has their cost impact. For the majority of retailers it’s not a straightforward decision.”

Although the campaign will not be council-run, the city authority will still have a part to play.

“Its role as custodian of many city centre areas such as the Peace Gardens, as well being the decision-making body for licensing and planning, means it is heavily involved in trying to boost the early evening economy.”

Richard Eyre, the council’s head of city centre management and major events, believes the city centre already has a ‘fantastic’ range of ‘diverse’ food and drink.

It has Purple Flag status, recognising its safety. And it has events such as the upcoming Tramlines which bring tens of thousands of people in.

Richard said: “The key aspect of creating a vibrant city centre is making somewhere with a buzz, with a lot to do, that is diverse. It’s everything from the Heart of the City area to Tramlines.

“Some of that we provide, such as Out of this World. There are events we facilitate such as Doc/Fest. We are always open for people to come to us.”

The council also provides the city centre ambassadors, who patrol core areas from 8am to 8pm.

“Their original role was to give guardianship to the Peace Gardens,” said Richard. “We looked at creating our own team which was our eyes and ears but also provided assistance and signposting to visitors. We started with six – one is still with us 15 years later.

“We developed it, working with the police. At our peak we had 26 but we’re down to 14. They cover seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.

“Their core role is the area around the Heart of the City, looking at a full range of issues from skateboarding to working with businesses. They get about 40,000 enquiries per year.”

This already suggests a great city centre, but Richard is backing the Alive After Five campaign. The council cannot replicate BID’s work, but can supplement it, by providing better signage, for example, or creating mobile apps that send offers to users depending on their location.

“One of my biggest challenges has always been that Sheffield city centre closes its doors after 5pm or 5.30pm,” said Richard. “There are between 35,000 and 40,000 people who commute to the city centre and who go back to their homes.

“If we can start to bridge the gap, that’s really going to have a major benefit.”