Introduction to Rich Warren
Rich Warren – Operations Director, Rugby First on his new role and plans for the town.
“Do you know what? I think this is the first time I’ve sat down all day”, says Rich Warren. It’s 3:35 pm on a Wednesday afternoon and the new Operations Director of Rugby First has spent most of his day so far talking to businesses and other key stakeholders in the town.
We’re here to interview him in order to find out more about the plans Rugby First has for the months ahead. This will be a crucial period, as the BID mandate comes up for renewal in 2020 and Rugby, like all towns across the country, is having to deal with challenges to the traditional high street.
Anyone who encountered Rich in his previous role with the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Hub will know his reputation as a friendly and energetic ‘people person’. He has worked with businesses of all sizes and sectors, helping them make connections that benefit them in various ways, be it via funding, training or collaboration for mutual benefit.
“The background I have in business mentoring is something I think can be very valuable for the BID”, says Rich. “We want all of the businesses in the town, whatever their size, to feel supported and part of a larger network that has their success and the overall prosperity of the town as its aim”.
It’s clearly been a busy few weeks since he started in April. Following a blaze of publicity in the local media around his appointment, including radio interviews with the BBC, he has quickly had to get up to speed with the work Rugby First does on a daily basis as well as its event schedule starting with the recent Rugby Bike Fest.
“Bike Fest is now firmly established and has been another success this year. We need more of these events that bring people to the town centre on a more regular basis”, he says.
The latest Festival of Culture will take place in July, and in September the town centre plays host to a food and drink festival. Rich reveals that Rugby First is working with Rugby Council and businesses in the town to put together an event themed around the Rugby World Cup later in September.
“I don’t believe Rugby always makes the most of being the birthplace of a sport with such dedicated worldwide support”, he states. “I am keen that, going forward, Rugby First plays an active role in bringing people together to create opportunities for the Town Centre and its businesses. The plan is a Japanese theme to tie in with the fact the tournament is taking place there. We are planning on dressing the Town Centre to encourage people to look up and see the many beautiful buildings, celebrate our place in history and to create a buzz”.
The World Cup runs for six weeks and Rugby First is keen to encourage businesses of all types and sizes to be involved. “We already have the support of Rugby School and Cemex as well as other businesses in the Town Centre”, reports Rich. “We’re open to ideas, and we want more businesses to play a role. Anyone who is interested should get in touch”.
Since the BID was formed in 2005, one of the most visible aspects has been the presence of the now famous red-clad Town Rangers on the streets of the town centre. “The Rangers are important ambassadors for the town”, says Rich. “They’re on duty from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm from Monday to Saturday and help in so many ways. This covers everything from being a friendly face providing directions to being first responders to incidents. They’ve assisted with helping get 999 calls made quickly following accidents and have assisted stores in apprehending shoplifting suspects”.
The Town Rangers are equipped with two-way radios and a number of businesses have them too, enabling them to communicate quickly if there is an issue.
Other BID staff are not always so obvious to the public, but make a huge difference. “Take our cleaners,” says Rich. “They clean to a level beyond the service provided by the council, removing chewing gum from pavement and tackling graffiti”.
Another key part of the service is CCTV. “As far as I’m aware, no other BID in the country runs the CCTV system in their town”, he says. “Our operators are able to spot all sorts of things and bring in the appropriate agencies where necessary, be it the Emergency Services or other agencies.
They can also send Rangers to assist. It’s a key part of helping provide safety and reassurance to anyone visiting the town”.
Any discussion about town centres in Britain today inevitably turns to the theme of the ‘death of the high street’ and what can be done to boost business. Rich seems positive about how the future can be managed. “Town centres are moving away from being solely retail areas”, he says. “That’s not to say retail isn’t very important – around 50% of our businesses are retailers or hospitality providers. We have some top high street names and of course a wide variety of excellent independent businesses.
“But town centres are increasingly becoming residential areas too, and are places where people not only live but work, socialise and take part in cultural activities. Our challenge is to make sure all these things work well together. Right now, Rugby is in a transitional phase. I am optimistic about the future”, he says.
“We can see how it is possible for venues in the town to adapt. The former M&S building is now Yum-Yum World and already a firm favourite with families. They’ve just invested in laser tag, which is really popular with kids. It’s an example of how businesses can come into the town and be successful by doing interesting things we’ve not seen in Rugby before”.
An accomplished networker and qualified Business Mentor, Rich is keen to help businesses wherever possible. “Our aim is to make sure they feel they are getting great value for the levy. That means keeping the town clean and safe, and doing everything we can to make it as vibrant as possible. We want businesses to grow, so if I can do anything to help I will. There are many resources available: the Chamber of Commerce and Growth Hub both run drop-in sessions, and if people talk to me I can help point them in the right direction”.
Rich is keen to remind business owners that Rugby First is also able to help promote members on social media. “We are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our team are always looking to promote any special offers, initiatives or anything else local businesses have got going on. It’s a great way to reach thousands of people in the town and outside”.
The impression Rich gives is one of enthusiasm and belief that things can be made to happen. “It’s a matter of having good, workable ideas and then getting people on board”, he says. “Any businesses who haven’t met me yet should get in touch. I’m always happy to have a chat. That’s where all good initiatives start”.