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NEWS > Alumnae News > Helping to Save our High Streets

Helping to Save our High Streets

Strategic communications advisor Katie Blake, Class of 2004, led a high-profile campaign during the pandemic to secure £1bn in Government aid to save over 55,000 High Street businesses from closure.

Katie, who is the Client and Commercial Director at Kallaway PR Agency, got involved with #RaiseTheBar after the CEO of the Croydon Business Improvement District asked for a favour, in return for a pair of Crystal Palace football tickets.

She turned what was, at that point, just a tactical letter to a Government minister, into a full-blown public affairs and media campaign, lobbying MPs and key influencers, with regular media activity across national, trade and local press.

Katie’s Mum ran a PR agency, so from the age of eight she helped out in the summer holidays, sending faxes and stuffing envelopes. “So I grew up with it”. Her first job was as press officer for Historic Royal Palaces.

She says: “#RaiseTheBar was a bit of a rollercoaster – it was utterly thrilling to be involved, but there was also a sense of great responsibility, as this was a campaign that was absolutely critical to the survival of tens of thousands of businesses across the country.”

The campaign was particularly targeted at saving a whole raft of independent retailers and businesses, such as butchers, hairdressers, coffee shops and gyms, who had all been hardest hit by the sudden lack of regular footfall and spend, and who fell between the gaps of Government grants to support Covid-19 hit companies.

#RaiseTheBar identified more than 55,000 High Street businesses across England and Wales who were not eligible for the Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG) for businesses with a rateable value above £51,000, and therefore weren’t going to receive a penny in support from the Government.

Working on a budget just the fraction of a typical public affairs campaign, and with an entirely virtual team of people on WhatsApp, Zoom and via phone, Katie helped the campaign secure cross-party support and win the backing from other supporting organisations and similar campaigns. The team managed to calculate the total amount of funding which would be required to save these hard-hit businesses, and also where this money was already sitting, unallocated, in a different fund held by HM Treasury, in order to help make solving the problem as simple as possible.

In February 2021 the Chancellor stood up in the House of Commons and announced that this fund of over £1bn would made available for High Street businesses to apply for. While the funding came too late for some, tens of thousands of businesses would not have been able to re-open their doors in 2021 without the #RaiseTheBar campaign working tirelessly on their behalf.

Katie says: “I am immensely proud to have had the opportunity and ability to help save our High Streets and local communities. We had to be strategic, agile and dogmatic. It was exhausting but professionally quite thrilling.  I was also the spokesperson for Surrey and it was a huge pride point to be making such a positive impact for my own community as well as the country. I had goosebumps when the Chancellor made the announcement.  It was surreal moment – we had achieved it and what a way to do it!”

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