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Small businesses and the UCI cycling championships

This year Yorkshire hosted the UCI Road World Championships. Held from 22-29 September, the races went through many towns in Yorkshire with Harrogate as the main centre. This was the first time since 1982 that the Championships were held in Great Britain and was a major coup for the county to be host such a prestigious event. 

The organisers themselves had the aim of making this the most inclusive, innovative and inspiring Championships ever but did they achieve this? With over 10,000 members across Yorkshire, all small businesses, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) is well placed to understand how this event affected local businesses and whether it was the innovative, inclusive and inspiring event the organisers wanted.

So we asked our members in the areas that hosted the championships to tell us their experiences of the event. We received responses from businesses in Harrogate, Skipton, Wetherby Knaresborough, Otley, Settle and Masham. The responses also covered a range of businesses, including retail, professional services and hospitality.

What issues were raised?

Overall the event got mixed views. Many felt that it will provide an economic boost for their area but others, particularly retail, were felt the cost to their businesses was too high. The biggest issues were access and a lower than expected footfall during the week. 

The biggest criticism from members was the poor communication from race organisers. Even though Yorkshire was awarded the race in October 2016, many businesses and local residents were unaware that the race was coming to their town until the summer of 2019. In particular information about road closures was unhelpful and often inaccurate, making planning a nightmare. Too much focus was on road closures rather than making the point that these towns were still open for business. 

There was also a feeling that the event did not properly involve local businesses. Towns would have had more benefit if local businesses were an integral part of the event rather than an add-on. There was particular criticism of the food offer in official areas was poor and did not showcase local produce and that photography was banned on the stray in Harrogate.

What was noticeable was that businesses were divided on the issue. A number of members congratulated those involved for bringing this event to the area, feeling it will provide a long term boost to the area and their business. 

What can we learn to make other major events better?

The UCI Road World Championships will not be the last major event to come to Yorkshire, so let’s learn some lessons to make sure future events benefit small businesses.

Major events are a chance to bring people together but only if organisers are willing to talk to local communities and local businesses. They must be willing to listen and take business concerns as legitimate rather than seeing those concerns as negative and those expressing them merely as kill-joys. 

Help the high street is vital. The biggest challenges from this event were for high street retailers who saw income down, footfall affected and access problems. Talk to retailers earlier and work with them to attract people coming to events in to our local shops, cafes and bars.

Local businesses make a huge difference to the success of events. Shop displays make a place more attractive and visitors’ impressions of a town are largely formed by their interaction with staff and owners of local shops and cafes. This contribution should be understood at the start of any planning and local business owners brought on board.

The FSB plays a key role in facilitating communications between event planners and local business. The FSB are a great way for event planners to get local; businesses involved. Getting small businesses behind major events will bring out local innovation, make them more inclusive and inspire people. The UCI Championships were great but by involving local businesses earlier they could have been even better. Let’s not make this mistake again.