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All About Hitchin

Keith Hoskins MBE
Town Centre Manager

Keith has been in town centre management since 1992, in Berkshire, before coming to take up his current post as Town Centre Manager of Hitchin in April 1997. He explains that the job became available as a result of the effects of the last recession of the early nineties. “There were certainly businesses – especially retail – and landlords concerned that the town was tired, unloved and shabby. They thought that by getting a central person in to co-ordinate the efforts of those different sectors and organisations they might do something about it. A good town centre manager helps to co-ordinate the council and community with commercial concerns.

At the outset, Hitchin Town Centre Initiative was set up as a private company and so had the freedom to organise itself. Although it wasn’t and still isn’t run by the local council, to their credit they did provide core funding until alternatives could be established.

As the Initiative progressed, community ownership of Hitchin Markets came in 2008 and soon after that the BID became a possibility. It successfully went through in 2009, and again in 2014 with an increased vote when it was up for renewal. When the BID came in, it took over some of the day to day aspects of the Initiative’s job and began looking after the town centre. This led to the Town Centre being dropped from the Initiative’s name as it became a more strategic body with the scope to focus on a wider area, including industrial areas and village locations. 
The BID is of benefit to the town as it gives guaranteed funding to deliver those projects that businesses themselves have identified as being key to their trading environment. When businesses renewed the BID in 2014, they identified marketing and promotion as needing more attention and that is now our focus, along with what was established during our first five year term.

Across the county, councils are looking to community groups and businesses to provide the service that they are no longer able to afford. Organisations like ours are able to step up and say we can partner them in this if they would like us to, rather than struggle on with lesser services. Hitchin has been ahead of the curve for a number of years and that is reflected in the vibrancy of our culture, the demand for houses and the evening economy. There are still only three BIDS in the whole of Herts, all three of which are in North Herts.

We were the first Fairtrade town in Hertfordshire and among the first five in the county to bring in town centre management. We are often quoted as an example of best practise and referred to both nationally and internationally; in 2005 Hitchin won a national award for best Town Centre Manager. Throughout the last recession we have maintained a vacancy rate of less than half the national average and people still feel that they can make a living by opening businesses in the town.

I’m delighted to be nominated for an MBE, because it came about through the community groups and businesses getting together, which you could say personifies Hitchin.”