Accessing funding to introduce an economy boosting project for your town and city: insight from Sunderland

What is the Welcome Back Fund? The Welcome Back Fund, launched in March 2021, providing councils across England a share of £56 million from the European Re

What is the Welcome Back Fund?

The Welcome Back Fund, launched in March 2021, providing councils across England a share of £56 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to support the safe return to high streets and help them to build back better from the pandemic. This funding built on the £50 million Reopening High Street Safely Fund (RHSSF) allocated to councils in 2020 and forms part of the wider support government is providing to communities and businesses. 

Sunderland used the Reopening High Street Safely Fund (RHSSF) to introduce the Sunderland Gift Card in November 2020. 

The Sunderland Gift Card can be spent with over 150 businesses city-wide. Sharon Appleby, Chief Executive of Sunderland BID explained more:

Why did you choose to access the Reopening High Street Safely Fund and use it to implement a local gift card for Sunderland?

“A gift card program was always something I wanted to introduce for our businesses. I first spoke to Colin at Miconex when I started at the BID 3-4 years ago. Finances, as always, were stretched and it was only in 2020 that we started to look at introducing a gift card again. Then covid hit and it became even more important to get it up and running. 

“We were fortunate to gain funding through the Reopening the High Streets Safely Fund, which is part funded by the European Development Fund, and worked alongside Sunderland City Council to deliver the project. Our relationship with Sunderland City Council is already strong, a two-way, supportive relationship, but working on the gift card program together really cemented the relationship across many council levels. 

“The first year of the program was paid for by the fund and the council, with Sunderland BID covering the running costs thereafter.”

How was the idea of The Sunderland Gift Card received by merchants? 

“Businesses were really positive about the introduction of the gift card. It’s free for them and they get the additional marketing support from being part of the program. Getting the businesses on board took a concerted effort from the team. We were pinging all over the city. I think I went to 22 Greggs stores in a single Sunday to get them all on board!

“As the fund is for the whole of Sunderland, we were able to roll it out to city neighbourhoods too, helping them to feel more connected to the city centre and to Sunderland overall. That had a really big impact for our outlying areas. We had one person who had a dedicated focus to getting neighbourhood businesses on board and added a good 30-40 businesses, like Heron Foods, an affordable food retailer.

“It was important for us to get a whole range of business sectors registered to accept the gift card at a variety of price points, everything from Nando’s, Greggs and local food stores to designer clothing shops, salons, even a hotel and Sunderland AFC. 

“The whole onboarding process for businesses was easy and we had no problems. Once we signed our contract with Miconex, we were all working towards getting the gift card up and running in time for Christmas sales. We probably had around 1 week to sign up the businesses, which we were able to do because we know our businesses well.”

Can you please tell us about your launch, marketing and PR activity?

“As the first Town and City Gift Cards program in the north east, we got lots of traction with our PR. I was interviewed for BBC News and it was covered in the trade press as well as locally. We had a radio campaign, people could nominate others to receive a Sunderland Gift Card and an Elf would hand deliver it to their door if they won. We used council channels to promote the gift card, digital screen advertising, lamppost banners and window stickers for our businesses. Our strapline was ‘one card so many options’. 

“As well as corporate orders from big employers, organisations in Sunderland were also able to use our gift card outside of the typical corporate mould. For example, Sunderland City Council purchased a large number the cards which were given to those in need through the food parcels it distributed over the festive season. We also had corporate orders for businesses wanting to reward staff for hard work during a difficult year, overtime worked or hitting sales targets.”

What are your future plans with The Sunderland Gift Card?

“The two areas we want to focus on next with the Sunderland Gift Card are corporate sales and in person gift card sales. We’ve been able to demonstrate the wide use of the Sunderland Gift Card for organisations, and will continue to develop the corporate order side with a targeted b2b campaign. It would be ideal for the in person location to buy the gift card to be somewhere like cultural hub The National Glass Centre or the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. 

 “The redemptions data we are receiving is really rich. Of our top 10 redemption places so far, 5 are nationals and 5 are independents. Festive food treats were popular with Robsons, Ibbitson’s and Greggs receiving plenty of redemptions. Independent stores like Made by Sally, Ginka and Dream Candy plus florists, jewellers and greengrocers saw spend. Plus our nationals like Primark and Boots. We’ve been hampered by the lockdown, but will continue to encourage redemption. 

“We have a covid-19 recovery taskforce, and adding the data from the Sunderland Gift Card will be really useful in demonstrating how we are recovering as a city. The gift card will work alongside our Future High Streets Fund work, which will see £25 million invested in Sunderland city centre.” 

And finally, any advice for other places thinking about launching their own gift card?

“Launching your own Town & City Gift Card is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to prove a BID’S worth, showing the monetary return on investment for BID levies. Businesses are very receptive to the idea. They can physically see the gift card, and the money, coming in. 

“It can be daunting to think about launching your own gift card, but the whole process with Miconex was really straight forward. If you can, give yourself more time to get your businesses on board so you can iron out any kinks and answer their questions. The Sunderland Gift Card is definitely one of the most successful projects we have undertaken as a BID.” 

Similar posts

Get notified on the latest Miconex News

Be the first to know about new case studies and Miconex news.