Supporting Bristol businesses

Cllr Craig Cheney is pictured, smiling, in a dark suit against a white background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor for City Economy, Finance, and Performance and Labour Councillor for Hillfields ward.

In July 2021, Bristol secured £4.725 million of funding to help our city centre and high streets across the city recover from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 where businesses were left reliant on national grant programmes, having been forced to close due to national lockdowns.

Supporting our high streets and city centre remains essential if we are to see them continue to recover and bounce back from recent challenges, not least the impact of the national cost-of-living crisis, which has increased prices and seen many of us cut back on discretionary spending. Our high streets and the businesses play an important role across our city, often forming the heart of the community with businesses passed down through the generations, providing services, jobs and support.

Plans were shaped by residents, businesses and community groups who live and work in the city centre and across nine priority high streets. Following engagement between September 2021 and March 2022 we have been delivering against these plans.

City Centre and High Streets Recovery and Renewal programme

Through the overarching City Centre and High Streets Recovery and Renewal programme we developed a programme of support for both new and existing high street businesses while also funding improvements in a bid to boost footfall.

Our programme of street scene and greening is underway. Concept designs are being drawn up to show our proposals for public realm and greening on the priority high streets. The focus is on improving the look and feel of our high streets by adding planters, planting trees, improving litter facilities to reduce rubbish, and encouraging people to stay with new seating for shoppers or passers-by.

To maximise what we are able to achieve, we are working with our partners across the city to make sure our proposals integrate with other programmes of support and regeneration.

Culture and events

Enhancing Bristol’s reputation for creativity and arts, we have supported the culture and events sector through the City Centre and High Streets Economic Recovery Culture and Events Programme, encouraging locals and visitors alike to use and visit these places to bring benefit to the areas and businesses there.

It’s wonderful to see the buzz and excitement return throughout Bristol since the pandemic. The variety of events and activities have encouraged Bristolians and visitors from beyond our city’s boundary to come to and experience what we have to offer. We recognise this in particular today, 27 September, which marks World Tourism Day.

We have now delivered 45 projects with 116 free events days. Whether it has been a local market, the Grand Iftar on College Green, the Church Road Lantern Parade, or Bristol’s Summer Film Takeover our unifying aim has been to celebrate the businesses, communities and cultures of Bristol’s diverse, inclusive, multicultural, multifaith city.

Importantly, all of the events and activities in the programme have been free and open to all to enjoy giving people the opportunity to explore what our city has to offer.

Analysis of 21 completed projects shows over 130,000 people have attended an event to date, generating £2.08 million of additional spend in Bristol’s businesses, and we have supported 380 paid jobs in culture and events, all from an investment so far of £498,000.

By increasing the number of people visiting and using these places we have seen the areas and businesses benefit from an increase in footfall and spend in local businesses. As a result, the number of visitors to our city centre in the last 52 weeks is up by 8.3% on the previous year.

Where’s It To?

To celebrate the uniqueness of each Bristol high street and remind people of the breadth and diversity of the independent businesses on them, we launched the Where’s It To? Bristol campaign.

Using local personalities to share their passion and knowledge of each high street, the campaign highlights the diversity of its traders and the areas of the city, to help encourage people to shop locally and to build stronger resilient independent businesses that are supported by their own communities.

The campaign website now features nearly 400 traders across 47 high streets and invites people to explore the hidden gems on their doorstep. Businesses interested in being added onto the website can email

Vacant Commercial Property Grant

Financial support through the Vacant Commercial Property Grant was recently extended to the end of March 2024.

Grants from £2,500 up to £10,000 are available to help new and expanding businesses trade from a city centre or local high street property. The amount of funding available depends on the length of lease or rental agreement, and is available for long term, temporary or meanwhile use. All organisations can apply including businesses, sole traders, charities, CICs, voluntary organisations, and arts and culture groups.

In the two years since launching, the council’s City Centre and High Streets Team has received over 450 enquiries and supported 100 new and expanding small businesses, charities and social enterprises allocating £872,000 in grants to open new shops and premises.

To date, over 100 new jobs have been created and the grant has helped to reduce the city centre vacancy rate by 2%.

Face to face support

Business Development Officers have been engaging businesses on all of Bristol’s high streets to make sure they have access to the latest business support, services and opportunities from the council and partner organisations.

Over the last year, our officers have engaged 1,001 businesses, provided tailored support to 457 businesses and made 93 referrals to partner organisations or services.

Whether you are opening your first business, looking to expand or facing financial challenges, our officers can provide tailored advice to meet your needs, including the latest information on grants and funding, training and skills, and mental health and wellbeing.

Future funding

£1.5m of additional funding has been secured through the strategic Community Infrastructure Levy (CiL) for high streets, subject to Cabinet approval next week. The new funding will allow us to continue supporting Bristol’s city centre and high streets, with a focus on three new priority high streets: Ashley Road/Grosvenor Road in St Paul’s, Crow Lane in Henbury and Oatlands Avenue in Whitchurch.

Funding would be spent on capital infrastructure projects to support growth in these areas, including lighting, improvements to cycle routes or infrastructure, and greening as part of wider public realm improvements.

Work would start on the new priority areas in October 2023 and run until September 2025, subject to community and business engagement, detailed designs, costings and contractor availability.