Jim Parker: Sorry, Mrs C - you and your team deserve praise and that YES vote

Tourism officials with poster

Carolyn Custerson and members of her team celebrate - Credit: Submitted

If Carolyn Custerson had a quid for every second she was on a zoom call in the past 16 months she may not have to be spending every waking moment telling the world what a great place the English Riviera is.

Then again, I doubt even a mountain of money would stop her doing what she loves doing the most  - and is damned good at doing. Loving the Bay. Loving where she lives and works and, as chief executive of the English Riviera BID Company, promoting the hind legs off it.

She won't take kindly to being singled out. She is a team player.  But I am prepared to take a rap on the knuckles and say 'tough', Mrs C deserves praise and she is going to get it. (head down, Parker).

There was a hint of a frog in the throat when Carolyn spoke after the BID company won a second term of office after a resounding ballot 'yes'  vote from levy payers last week.

She had every right to be emotional and, of course, proud of her team after what surely must have been the worst and most challenging 16 months of her working life.

Covid was intent on destroying an industry she has fought hard to protect and nurture. It was in danger of crumbling before very eyes with thousands of jobs in danger of going down the pan and a huge chunk of the Bay's economy going down with them.

You could see Carolyn hurting on some of those may zoom calls as she recounted how the sector and its people were suffering. But didn't hide. She led from the front and put Torbay's case in front of government ministers so it became the case for the industry nationally.

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Perversely, the pandemic had some bearing on the BID yes vote.

Company chairman Tim Godfrey said after the ballot result: "I was not surprised by the result. I was nervous knowing Torbay. But I had a positive mindset because of the hard work the team and Carolyn had done.

"They won the hearts and minds of people and were ahead of the game.

"We were able to give the industry clarity. Some local groups were sharing the information nationally.

"The last 18 months have been incredibly hard but I think they could have been harder if people had been drowning in red rape and government speak and not had that voice and clarity from the centre.  

"We have had to adapt business. We were closed. Then we had to be a Responsible Riviera when we re-opened. The message was important."

Now it is all about the future - together with Torbay Council £600,000 is being spent on a new events strategy.

"It is not just about the air show. It is what we can do to support the Bay in the shoulder months," says Tim.

"Then we have our natural assets like the Geopark. People love to be in the Great Outdoors. How do we get businesses joined up to take advantage of that?"

BID Company vice-chairman Martin Brook said Covid had 'clobbered' the industry for £250 million.

But he revealed that when the pandemic hit, Torbay MP Kevin Foster was asked to help. He wanted facts and figures and it was that data that was to help the sector during its darkest hours.

It predicted that 70 per cent of the tourism and hospitality businesses would be gone by 2021," said Martin. 

The fact that hasn't happened was down to the government being galvanized into taking lifeline actions.

Martin said: "We had data that was so important. The work the company did was massive.

"Carolyn pushed hard for the resort. Thanks to her, the BID company and Kevin Foster and Anthony Mangnall we now have influence.  People listen to us." 

Last word to Tim Godfrey: "I just hope people will realise the value of the BID company."