Meet Dave Barber. He’s the man in charge of getting town centres re-opened safely as part of his role as Head of Development Services for Warwick District Council. Dave’s Chief Executive has put him forward to be a WM Everyday Hero, but like many of our Heroes Dave is super quick to pass the praise onto his whole team and the partners they have been working with.
There are three people in particular who he says have been “absolutely brilliant” – Mark Brightburn who joined just before lockdown as a Project Officer, Charlotte Sully who started as and events officer during lockdown and Stephanie Kerr, the Chief Executive of the Leamington Business Improvement District (BID). Dave is adamant that they really deserve credit too at this tough time. We will come back to why shortly.
We’ve been putting lots of energy into building public confidence
Dave speaks passionately about the four towns in the district, “Royal Leamington Spa, Warwick, Kenilworth and Whitnash are the heartbeat of our communities. They’ve been quiet over the last three months. Now the task is getting people to come back to spend and enjoy our towns once again. We are here to make that happen and have been putting lots of energy into building public confidence and really welcoming people back.”
The first market to open in Warwickshire was in Warwick a month ago – that gave Dave and his team some insight into how to make social distancing work. The market was fenced off with one entrance point to control numbers that worked well for both customers and traders.
Unlike some of the Government’s announcements in the daily Coronavirus briefings, for example getting the homeless off the streets in just 48 hours, the Government gave councils three weeks to get the towns reopened. But when Dave explained what has been going on behind the scenes it’s no wonder things have felt ridiculously hectic! The need for social distancing has required the team to work closely with colleagues from Warwickshire County Council to put in place Traffic Regulation Orders to close roads to traffic, to suspend ‘on street’ parking and to open ‘pop up’ cycle lanes. All this to provide more space for people to walk and cycle. And while in the initial weeks of lockdown it was PPE that was running out in care homes, with towns town reopening across the country what’s been in short supply are the traffic cones and barriers needed to safely segregate pedestrians from cyclists and cars.
Mark, Charlotte and Stephanie have walked every street and talked to every business
It’s Dave and his team’s job to support and encourage businesses, advising them on the changes that they need to make. Helping businesses take action to keep people safe whilst at the same time making sure that the shops can get their deliveries in and gain access to premises.
And that’s where the likes of Mark, Charlotte and Stephanie come in. Dave says, “They are working closely with businesses, listening to what they need and supporting them in whatever way they can. They’ve worked out where to put the social distancing information like signs on bollards and stickers. Stephanie has been full of bright ideas such as making the street surface stencils and dressings look so much prettier than dull notices – they’ve been designed as flowers and butterflies.”
Dave explains that staff from the theatre have been redeployed to be Town Centre Ambassadors. “They’ve been front of house providing a warm welcome and advice to shoppers and businesses. They’ve been there to spot any issues and really help people with information, all branded up so that people can see it’s the Council leading this,” says Dave.
Decisions have had to be made far more quickly
Dave has loved the energy and commitment everyone has put in and how staff from both the district and county councils and the business improvement district (BID) have worked so well together, all focused on the safe reopening of the towns. He thinks there are lessons to be learned too. Quicker decision making for things that would have previously taken months and several committee reports, have been done in weeks, sometimes days. He cites the example of Government money coming into the Council to help support town centres reopening safely but without any guidance. A plan was put together including cycle racks and planters and the Leadership Co-ordinating Group, set up during the pandemic to make quick decisions, approved the Plan.
When asked what our town centres will be like in the longer term Dave says he would like to see many of the recent changes to become permanent, such as the pop up cycle lanes, a focus on pedestrians and better air quality. “People should be able to enjoy our Town Centres as places to spend time, to linger, to sit outside – this can help our businesses to thrive. If we can do this by finding better ways to manage the impact of cars it will not only be better for our health and our air quality but also our businesses,” he says.
Dave who’s been with Warwick DC for 20 years, is a planner and thinks local government is so much more dynamic than people give it credit for. He’s previously worked in Bristol, Nottingham and London. He’s also just taken on a new challenge for the Council to be the new Programme Director for Climate Emergency and will split his time between his current and this new exciting role.