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Isle of Bute: The UK’s first whole-island BID

Isle of Bute BID. Left to right: Chair John Glen, Vice-Chair Sophie Reid and manager John Weir. July 2022. Scotland’s Towns Partnership

It’s not just one area on the Isle of Bute that’s home to a Business Improvement District – the whole island is one.

Businesses made history in 2021 by voting to create the UK’s first whole-island BID, a move designed to unite the community in its desire to deliver a stronger, successful future.

Discussions on creating a BID initially focussed on Rothesay, the island’s largest settlement and home to the busy ferry terminal which welcomes both boats sailing across the Firth of Clyde to and from the mainland at Wemyss Bay as well as cruise liners in the summer tourist season.

But those involved quickly realised that they could embrace the improvement district vision to ensure the whole island community – a population of about 6,000 residents living across almost 50 square-miles – could benefit.

Isle of Bute BID chair, John Glen, explained: “When we started discussing the BID process – what it is and what it would mean for Rothesay – we really felt that, looking at the makeup of the island, it would be limiting for the rest of the island community, which is so tightly knit.

“So we thought, why restrict ourselves to the confines of Rothesay? It made far more sense to incorporate everyone on the island.”

Mr Glen, who’s also the managing director of Bute Fabrics, added: “It was a decision which felt really natural. It was the right thing to do to have an island BID.”

The creation of the whole-island BID was supported by the expert team at Scotland’s Improvement Districts (SIDs) and the wider Scotland’s Towns Partnership family.

It is a model which the SIDs team believes other island communities could embrace.

Since its inception, the improvement district has enabled work to enhance both the look of the community and its economy, encouraging local people and visitors to support businesses and events.

Among one of its most notable developments has been the creation of an amphitheatre in the town centre, which has proven a fantastic venue for events and outdoor dining.

The BID has also led a shopfront improvement scheme as well as other enhancements to the streetscape, including cleaning and painting, as well as organising a host of business-boosting events, including festive celebrations. It has also opened its own office, overlooking the green and seafront in Rothesay.

Sophie Reid, The Dressing Room, Rothesay. Isle of Bute BID. July 2022. Picture: Scotland’s Towns Partnership

Sophie Reid is owner of The Dressing Room, on Montague Street, as well as being the BID’s vice-chair.

She said: “Bute is a great place to do business. We have a fantastic community and our natural surroundings.

“For me, a BID was the only way to help drive change and improvement – using my experience of what locals and customers say to be regularly.

“We’ve started to improve the look of the town and it’s giving people hope. A lot of businesses know that things are only going to get better now.”

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