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Leigh Sparks: When people have a stake in their community, great things can happen

Scotland’s Improvement Districts are pioneering – and are playing a vital role in communities across the country, as Professor Leigh Sparks reflected when he spoke at our recent Celebration of Improvement Districts in the Scottish Parliament.

“Over 15 years ago I was a founding director of Business Improvement Districts in Scotland and have been around long enough to recall the six pathfinders. The development and then maturity of the initial vision of Business Improvement Districts in Scotland has been significant and leading in the UK.

“We, from the outset, have been pioneers in different ways of delivering the basic concept, including sector and non-contiguous BIDs. Our legislation was far-sighted in that regard.  We continue to refine and develop the concept and its practicalities.

“Just over five years ago we expanded the concept to encompass wider ideas of community and placed Scotland’s Improvement Districts under the leadership of Scotland’s Towns Partnership. I am really pleased to see not only the innovation delivered over the last five years, but the vital local community role Improvement Districts have begun to play. 

“Scotland’s Improvement Districts showed their true potential during the Covid pandemic and lockdowns. Across Scotland they were critically important in delivering for their members and the local community.

“Now, through the cost of living and doing business crises, they are demonstrating the value of sustainability, local leadership, community spirit, innovation, partnership and agile delivery.

“When people have a stake in their community, have agency and feel empowered to do good for their place and community, great things can happen.

“Notwithstanding current pressures, therefore, we can move forward confidently. We can build on these strong foundations.

“The post-covid / net zero landscape provides us with a great opportunity to further develop a more expansive Community Improvement Districts concept, whether for new projects or expanding partnership in existing SIDs. Our focus on Community Wealth Building ensures that  Scotland’s Improvement Districts will continue to play a leading role in their local communities and in building sustainable local wealth.”

Professor Leigh Sparks is Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, the parent organisation of Scotland’s Improvement Districts. He is also Deputy Principal and Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling

Read more: Parliamentary celebration of Scotland’s Improvement Districts

Find out more: All about Scotland’s Improvement Districts