New Anglia Growth Hub was set up in 2014 to provide free face-to-face business support. Since then, its team of expert advisers have engaged with over 9800 businesses, providing more than 51,000 hours of support across Norfolk and Suffolk.
Businesses can access a range of support including help accessing grants and funding, international trade advice, training opportunities and specialist high growth support. Initiated by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and managed by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the Growth Hub has access to hundreds of sources and expert advice, fast-tracking businesses to the right support.
With the current challenges faced by businesses, it is no surprise to hear that in March the number of calls they received was fivefold their normal amount. As businesses were instructed to close or move their operations to home working where possible, business owners sought emotional support as well as practical help and advice. The increase in demand was overnight and happened at a time when like every other business, the Hub was trying to work out how they could operate safely and within guidance themselves.
“The first couple of weeks were really tough. We had to adjust and change the way we were working ourselves. We all started working from home and had to have a new telephone system installed to enable that to happen. At the same time, we were receiving 100 calls a day, all needing our urgent attention and help, “says Richard Glinn, manager of the Hub. The calls received before covid were usually focused on business growth and how businesses could access the technology, skills or funding needed to support that growth. Suddenly the calls were about survival, and often from upset and fearful entrepreneurs with nowhere else to turn. The team at the Hub found themselves in almost a counselling role with very little signposting available. “We were the front line breaching the time gap between the Government making the announcement and the local authority and HMRC having the administrative process in place. In the early weeks, there was a significant time lag between help and support being announced, and details being made clear and application processes being available, “ reports Richard.
By the end of April, the nature of the calls changed again. Government processes had kicked in, organisations had a greater understanding of what support was available and how to access it, and information had improved online. Enquiries started to move towards growth options, diversification and project ideas. The Growth Hub’s work became grant focused. Grants are now available for companies that have taken the opportunity to grow or change their business plan during this period. The two well established schemes, The Growing Business Fund and The Small Grant Scheme have now been joined by two new initiatives, Growth Through Innovation and the Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme and all four are receiving very healthy interest.
“Despite the support package, there are companies that have fallen between the cracks. If we haven’t been able to signpost to an appropriate support grant or loan, we have spoken to the local authority about those companies to highlight their needs. The Discretionary Grant is in place for those companies who have not been eligible for other schemes,” says Richard.
The Growth Hub is currently surveying local businesses in Suffolk and Norfolk, to establish how best they can support the business community in the next six to twelve months. Businesses are now considering how do they trade and what will their new business approach look like. There may be gaps in technology, skills or supply chains that need to be plugged. Whilst re-opening is about becoming Covid-secure, the future is also about becoming Covid-resilient in case of a second spike.
Richard would urge businesses to get in touch if they have any concerns about finance or next steps. Richard notes: “There is a future. We might be able to help you to make it a positive future”.
The New Anglia Growth Hub team continues to offer free advice and support to businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk. Call 0300 333 6536 to speak to an adviser or visit: newangliagrowthhub.co.uk