Helen Marshall of Chichester BID on what The Big Hoot will do for the high street

Date published: 21 May 2024

“It’s another reason to come into the city centre”

Helen is Chief Executive of Chichester BID. Helen is a native of the city and has enjoyed a long career in retail, most recently as retail director for contemporary fashion businesses. After living and working in London, she returned to West Sussex and joined the BID three years ago. We caught up with Helen about why she’s so excited about The Big Hoot hitting Chichester and Arundel this summer.

If you go down to Crane Street today, you’re sure of a big surprise…

Local and visiting artists have set up shop in an empty unit, allowing passers-by sneak peeks of some of the owls that will form The Big Hoot art trail in Chichester and Arundel this summer. The sculpture trail is a joint endeavour between Sussex children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House and Wild in Art, which has staged similar events around the UK and as far away as Australia.

An opportunity for all local businesses

As well as fundraising for Chestnut Tree House, which is near Arundel, the trail will drive footfall to the area. “It’s an opportunity for businesses to put their best foot forward,” says Helen.

“I’m thrilled we have the opportunity to be part of The Big Hoot,” says Helen. “These trails cause quite a stir where they appear and give people another reason to come into the city centre. It’s colourful, it’s interesting, it’s artistic, quirky, and fun for all the family. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that? My hope is that it puts Chichester and Arundel on the map for a whole host of new visitors and allows regular visitors the opportunity to see us in a different light.”

Chichester BID oversees 650 businesses, with around £285,000 a year of revenue. “Around 60 per cent of our retail businesses are independents that can’t be found nationally, and that makes us unique,” says Helen. “BIDs are about advocating for those businesses and helping them get the very best out of their trading environment.

“As we approach the arrival of The Big Hoot, we’re working hard on creating opportunities, which might include providing rewards for people to collect via The Big Hoot’s app. That’s a great chance for businesses to drive people across their threshold. It’s our job to make sure that our independent businesses understand what opportunities there are before they happen.”

Keeping the high street bustling

Helen believes that offering unique experiences is key to keeping the high street alive. “The challenges for high streets are well documented and Chichester isn’t immune to them. We’re in the middle of a huge transformative period for high streets across the world in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“People seem to be waiting to get back to post-COVID levels of footfall in high streets and that’s never going to happen. We were in a transition period even pre-COVID – what we now want from our high streets and the way we shop is changing.

“That is primarily because of e-commerce, but people also want more from their high streets than transactions. We are social animals, and we want experiences that we can’t get on the Internet.

“People often ask why there are so many coffee shops in city centres, and that’s a prime example – you can’t buy a cup of coffee online. Similarly, you’ll see lots of barber shops, hairdressers, health and beauty.

“As leaders in this area, we need to look forward, forecast what is going on and react to it. Driving up footfall and dwell time in the city centre are the Holy Grail and that’s exactly what we should still all strive to achieve. But we must find different ways to do it.”

The impact the owls will make

Similar sculpture trails have driven huge revenue spikes in their communities. Last year, Wild in Art’s Herd in the City trail gave Southend an economic boost of £3.3m. Helen hopes that The Big Hoot will do great things for Chichester. “We’re really encouraging businesses to embrace the fact that this is coming to town, and we are working hard with the organisers to make sure that the location of the owls pushes people to parts of the city that they don’t normally explore.

“Personally, I’m very proud of Chichester. I was born, brought up and went to school here. I have a sense of pride that we’re able to bring something different to the city and I’m looking forward to enjoying the trail myself, both in Chichester and Arundel.

“It feels like we have lots going on in Chichester this year. But I absolutely want us to get the best out of this trail because it’s a one-off and it has a national following. Chestnut Tree House have done the hard work delivering this. We just need to make sure it works for the city centre businesses.

“People often ask what they can do to support their local high street. Well, here is a great opportunity. The best thing you can do this year is to come on The Big Hoot trail. It’s a bit of fun and it won’t cost you anything.”

Above: Our artists, Russ Iden, Ben Cavanagh and Pink Vision, hard at work in their paining space on Crane Street

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