Let’s shout about the Island as a fantastic place to live and work – it’s more exciting than London!
By Reniera O’Donnell, Assistant Director for Regeneration at the Isle of Wight Council.
On 19 July, I stood up at our annual regeneration conference and declared that I have met more interesting people and companies in the three years I have lived on the Isle of Wight than in the 14 years I lived in London. At the risk of alienating all my London friends, this is entirely true! The Isle of Wight is full of exciting people and companies, and we really should be shouting this out. Where else can your dinner-table guests be weapons engineers, care home owners, teachers or remote workers who are all making the Island lifestyle work for them and their companies? London is a fantastic place to live but I’d champion life on the Island any day. Since the start of the regeneration programme in January 2017, I have been privileged to meet so many people who have chosen to do that, and built businesses or rearranged their working life to make it possible.
Many people think of regeneration as a ‘bricks and mortar’ thing. As we know, development on the Island hasn’t always been met with large amounts of positivity, but we are changing that perception. Regeneration is as much about helping existing businesses to grow, and attracting new businesses to the Island, as it is about ensuring we build the kinds of employment environments into which they can move.
It’s been brilliant to have such great support from the business community working together to grow our economic base and help take our beautiful Island to new heights. The Isle of Wight Council’s work with both the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Reference Group is invaluable to make sure the regeneration team understands what local businesses need, and how the programme can support them. But this goes two ways. It is just as important for those local businesses to make the time to talk with us, and with their customers and off-Island contacts to spread the word about the Island as a great place to live, work, grow up and invest. Our recently launched draft regeneration strategy is an ideal opportunity for businesses to get involved if they haven’t already.
I think the regeneration plans for the Island are getting exciting. Investors are starting to sit up and take notice of our ambitions. There has been a lot of interest in taking forward some of our more ambitious schemes. The Nicholson Road employment park in Ryde will be the first major employment space development for some time, and there is already plenty of interest in taking space on the site and in being a development partner. Watch out for a planning application in January 2019! Following closely behind will be the new masterplan for Newport Harbour which will see a vibrant and lively addition to the County Town, bringing new homes and new places for people to spend their time.
We must keep up this energy, and to do this we all need to put out the same strong, clear message: this is the place to build a successful business. I want public and private sector organisations to shout loudly about what we are good at, not just on the mainland but right here on the Island too. Let’s prove to our young people that the Isle of Wight is the very best place for them to build a life and a future.
Reniera is the Assistant Director for Regeneration at the Isle of Wight Council. She moved to the Island three years ago after 14 years living and working in London in a variety of local government roles.