An interview with NE1: The BID company behind Newcastle city centre's multi-million pound economy
Ahead of Newcastle’s NE1 BID renewal vote opening on Thursday (September 20), we caught up with the firm’s chief executive Adrian Waddell on what exactly NE1 does for Newcastle’s city centre and its people.
On a top floor of Milburn House, on Newcastle’s rather steep Dean Street, sits NE1’s offices.
It’s a quaint place to say the least. The lift is so old, it’s often out of order - so climbing the many stairs is the only option, and there are a little too many. Green and cream tiles adorn the walls; it’s old but it’s one place I certainly wouldn’t update in a hurry.
At the end of a small corridor on Floor A, I walk into a small, minimal office and Adrian Waddell is sitting at his desk. There’s a poster for Newcastle Fashion Week 2007 to the right of my chair, a project of NE1’s - and a nostalgia-fuelled throwback to say the least.
Notes, books and sheets of endless paper are piled on Adrian’s desk in your average organised, chaotic fashion, while the big open window to the left has you look out for miles over Newcastle’s rooftops, as you hear screeching trains chug past in the distance.
Now, for those of you not familiar with NE1, it’s a Business Improvement District (BID) company. A lot of you - particularly those native to the region - will have come across many things to do with it, but have probably never noticed.
Adrian slots into the business as its chief executive. Raised in Corbridge, he went straight into the army at 16-years-old, stayed for 25 years, dropped out and obtained a fine art degree.
Whilst job hunting in 2009, he was introduced to NE1 through several different recruiters - and at the time, NE1 was just a startup itself, having been set up in 2009. But Adrian hasn’t looked back, and has watched the business flourish ever since.
NE1 is Newcastle’s ‘Business Improvement District’ (BID), acting as the port of call for investing in new projects, events and spaces for the city centre. Without it, you wouldn’t have the likes of Alive After Five, free parking at certain times, and even entertaining pastime, Screen On The Green.
Although a privately run company, it’s independent and not-for-profit, so all of the money invested into it goes straight back into helping the local economy.
From Thursday (September 20), businesses, within the NE1 postcode which fall into the BID catchment, will be voting for whether or not they would like the company to continue doing what they do best.
Every five years, NE1 has to be voted back in, by these companies, to continue its service to the community. Without it, such projects and events could be postponed, or another potential BID company could step in.
For those of you not familiar with the work of NE1 - and what exactly a BID company is and what it gives to a local economy - we’ll take it back to basics. NE1’s foundations were set in 2009, but the concept of a BID company has been around a great deal longer.
It’s the idea of businesses - in a precise geographical boundary - collectively contributing to their local economy. In this case, it’s the NE1 postcode, and Adrian says businesses within this postcode that have a rateable tax of £20k or more, pay a one per cent levy which goes towards NE1’s big old pot of gold to be invested back into the economy. Phew.
Like all good startups, NE1 began small with a few events here and there, however the staples of Newcastle - as Adrian says “what are [now] considered to be normal life” - were initiated by the company.
Here are a few examples of how it is striving to change the city with the “NE1 effect”, as Adrian and the rest of the team affectionately call it.
Adrian’s first ever project, which began in 2009, is still ongoing - and with good reason as it is potentially the most necessary of them all. NE1’s Street Rangers and Clean Team are essentially the backbone of the city, making sure the local environment is safe and secure.
The BID company has successfully given a new lease of life to Newcastle’s economy at night - without it, it wouldn’t be currently worth an estimated £839m: “Alive After Five has been absolutely transformational.
“On a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at around 6-7pm, Newcastle would be dead [without it]. It would only liven up on Thursday and Friday.
“But this company catalysed Alive After Five. It still takes up a lot of time and money, but we are happy to continue investing in it because it is so important to the city’s economy.
“We know that the period between 5-8pm accounts for 20 per cent of the daily footfall now. The value of the additional spending is over £840m.”
And with the likes of Alive After Five, comes Newcastle’s fairly new Restaurant Week - this year alone in January, an estimated 45,000 diners came into the city and £550k worth of vouchers were redeemed just for food alone.
It’s true most of us probably aren’t aware of the fact NE1 puts on these events, but they’re popping up right under our noses - and we’re sniffing new ones out constantly, because the company is striving to make the city centre an ‘idyllic’ spot for both locals and tourists alike.
But of course, these things take time. For example, Newcastle’s Bigg Market area is currently a work in progress, but Adrian is hoping such a project will be finished in a month or two.
The area has “been in decline for years”, but NE1 is hoping to transform it with a £1.6m grant - part of an overall £3.2m scheme - thanks to partner, Heritage Lottery Fund.
By working with local businesses of the Bigg Market and Cloth Market, listed buildings like the Grade-II Pumphrey’s Bar and Cellar venue are getting a new lease of life.
“There have been many places shut for a very long time and we want to change that, whether it’s residential or pop-up incubator spaces, we want decent quality operators going in - whether it’s a shop, residential or a particular type of bar,” Adrian muses.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for the Bigg Market. We reckon there’s £40m investment coming in from the back of [its] plans.”
This isn’t even mentioning the affectionately named Quayside Seaside, or Newcastle Motor Show… Or NE1’s contribution to transform the marina, making it more attractive for tourists. In turn, this has sparked deals with Durham University and Newcastle University’s rowing teams. I really don’t fancy blowing NE1’s trumpet but there’s just… So. Much.
In terms of the future, NE1 is hoping to eventually pedestrianise Blackett Street and Northumberland Street - especially with the figures, published by the company, that suggest Newcastle’s annual retail spend of £1bn per annum makes it the “primary retail destination” in the whole of the North East.
“It’s making surgical interventions that are enough to get things happening and then you can let the economics take over. As a BID company, we are constrained and although we talk about a vote, Business Improvement Districts last for five years at a time.
“Assuming we’re given a new term - and we’re confident we’ll get that - there is no room for complacency. I suppose the offer for businesses is that those things we’re doing now, we’ll continue to do.
“I don’t want to be dribbling across the line. I want a solid mandate for businesses going forward.”
Companies within the catchment have until October 18, 2018 to decide whether NE1 stays for another five years and, judging by the sound of how things have panned out so far, I doubt this is the last we will see of the BID company.
If you want to find out more about what NE1 does for Newcastle, and the events you can attend - or may have already without realising - go to NewcastleNE1Ltd.com.