CHIEF Executive of Croydon BID MATT SIMS speaks to Ian Austen, about his hopes and ambitions for the future of our town centre...
BACK in the 1960s Norman Sims headed up Croydon Council's refuse department and saw the town going through its transformation – staking its place as one of the south east's major retail and commercial centres.
Today his grandson, Matthew Sims, heads the Croydon Business Development District (BID) at a time when the town is on the brink of another development revolution, casting off what has now become its much-maligned 60s' image.
Mr Sims, the BID's chief executive, explained: "My grandad saw buildings like Taberner House going up and at the time Croydon was the talk of London, attracting both businesses and large numbers of people.
"Now Croydon is going through another transformation and I hope it will emerge from it with the same kind of success it enjoyed then."
He is determined to use his experience in the town and the strength of the BID – which represents the main town centre businesses – to help ease what he accepts will be a difficult time, as the regeneration promised by the Westfield/Hammerson redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and large office and homes projects like Stanhope/Schroders' Ruskin Square take shape.
Mr Sims' association with the borough goes back to 2005 when he started working as marketing and PR executive at Croydon Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The chamber was undergoing an upheaval and attack on membership numbers after senior officers left to form the rival Croydon Business organisation.
A year after joining the chamber, Mr Sims took over as general manager and set about working to revive its fortunes.
He said: "I think this was one of the most significant times in the chamber's history as I was effectively given a blank sheet of paper." to be able to develop its future."
Changes he put in place to increase support services to local businesses and widen the range of events it organised helped stabilise the membership and since then the organisation has re-established its important role in the business community.
Mr Sims said: "The changes were successful and the chamber came out of them much stronger."
That success also whetted Mr Sims' appetite to play his own wider role in backing the burgeoning revival in the town's fortunes.
In 2012, with the BID looking for a full-time chief executive, Mr Sims applied for, and got, the job.
Since then, he has worked with his dedicated team of 12 to deliver improvements in the town centre, including better security and safety for both customers and businesses, fostering a clean, green image and bringing in new shoppers with a series of events and street entertainment days.
Mr Sims and his organisation also launched the Check Out Croydon loyalty card last year, which has so far signed up more than 50 town-centre shops, restaurants and hotels.
The BID is financed by its levy payers and comes up for renewal every five years, the next time in 2016. Mr Sims said: "It is a bit like a General Election; we have a five-year period in which to deliver value for the levy players. If they vote against renewing the BID we are out of a job."
He is, however, confident the record up to now and plans for innovation in the pipeline, and plans including possibly running its own recycling service for member companies, will keep businesses on board when it comes to the 2016 ballot.
Just as crucially, he believes the BID has a key role to play during what will inevitably be major disruption to the centre as construction on projects like Westfield/Hammerson starts.
Not least of these will be keeping the town running while construction carries on, ensuring businesses are informed of progress and supported in difficult times.
The BID will also be working with the council and the developers to hammer home the clichéd but vital message that Croydon is still open for business, despite the upheaval.
Mr Sims said: "This is it for Croydon and the opportunities must be harnessed.
"The opportunities and benefits for Croydon are being realised and we are in a wonderful position."
The important thing now, he stressed, was to be able to cope with the short-term problems to capitalise fully on the bright future.