AS we approach Christmas and many of us enjoy the seasonal attractions in Kingston’s town centres, it is clear how important a thriving local economy is to the borough.

The pandemic has meant that helping our local economy to recover has been crucial work for the council and its partners this year. For many businesses the last 18 months has been simply about survival and we've been able to distribute £60 million to around 3,000 local firms -providing them with critical support.

Thanks to the efforts of local businesses, we were able to support 13 projects through our High Streets Recovery Fund in the summer with almost £200,000 going towards initiatives aimed at supporting Kingston’s high streets. I’m delighted that New Malden will additionally receive £120,000 from the Mayor of London’s High Streets for All initiative – helping revitalise the local economy in this part of the borough.

As it is increasingly difficult for many stores to compete with the expanding online shopping market, our partnership with has provided businesses with a free and easy way to trade online and residents with the ability to shop using click-and-collect. Such innovations are crucial to the future of our high streets.

Supporting a thriving economy means we will be able to grow the vibrancy of our town centres for years to come, but it also means we can protect and enhance the local job market.

Surrey Comet: John Lewis - performance space

The council’s new agreement with the John Lewis Partnership is set to help create hundreds of new jobs over the next 10 years by supporting the activities and growth of local businesses. It will see new affordable workspace at the riverside and Creative Youth utilising the Undercroft as a cultural and creative hub and performance space.

The creative space is a strong illustration of the way we are working to diversify our town centres. It is important they are also places people want to visit for cultural, leisure and entertainment offers as well as shopping.

We have been working hard alongside partners to make this vision a reality. The opening of the new sculpture trail in collaboration with Kingston University, Kingston First and the Canbury Community Trust has proved a popular new attraction in Kingston. More than 3,000 people voted for their favourite sculpture and the winner, Party Animal, is now set to become a permanent feature in Kingston’s town centre.

Surrey Comet: Party animal sculpture

Creating an inviting environment to visit is also crucial to enhancing the vibrancy of our local economy. New planters and seating have contributed to breathing new economic life into the borough by providing a greener and more welcoming street scene.

Furthermore, alongside Kingston First, we are working with local landscape architects Davies White and The Edible Bus Stop design studio to transform Eagle Brewery Wharf on the riverside and Memorial Gardens in the heart of the town into more attractive spaces. While one will improve the walking experience alongside our magnificent riverside the other will acknowledge the significance of history to Kingston.

History and tradition are important to many of us at this time of year and those sentiments are at the core of our Transform Kingston plans as we continue to support the economic and cultural recovery of the borough.

I wish everyone a very happy festive season, a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.