This article was written by Damian and published in this week's editions of the Herald and Petersfield Post:
"It was great last weekend to be out again on Small Business Saturday, talking with local business leaders about the challenges experienced during the pandemic and the opportunities they see ahead.
We know how important small business are for our national and local economy and of course trading conditions have been extremely tough over the past eighteen months, especially for leisure and parts of retail.
Having said that, the resilience shown by so many, and their great creativity, have shown just how adaptable and innovative small business can be in difficult circumstances.
The Wheatsheaf in Alton is one of many local pubs impacted by the closures and restrictions. It was good to hear how they have been developing the business, through family events and (when the weather has allowed) al fresco hospitality.
Finding new ways of operating was a necessity for many, with some local retailers moving to online models and offering a range of delivery and collection services. This not only meant business could continue, but it was often a lifeline for local residents who were shielding or needing to isolate.
This ability to spot opportunities in a rapidly changing environment is often the necessity and advantage of a smaller and more dynamic enterprise, and one exemplified by the Nosh Café Bar in Medstead who invested in a pizza oven service and extended their capacity with a marquee.
A new retail venture during this period would seem very risky, but Juniper on Lavant Street in Petersfield recognised the growing demand for more sustainable produce, with a packaging-free offer - from rice and porridge oats through to detergent and bubble bath.
The restrictions on how far we could travel away from home during the pandemic sparked a growth in walking and cycling. Increased environmental awareness meant a particular growth in demand for e-bikes.
The recently re-branded Rightbike UK (formerly Owen Cycles) in Steep is one local bike retailer who has seen this growth. It was interesting to hear about their plans to expand through franchising.
These are just a few of the local companies that are such a vital part of local life here in East Hampshire, providing products and services to local communities – and employment locally.
Supporting businesses like this with incentives to invest is key. The cut in business rates next year for most retail, hospitality and leisure businesses is an important way to help the recovery, and to build back better.
Earlier this year, the government announced the Help to Grow initiative, with new business support schemes to boost productivity and growth among the UK’s small and medium sized businesses.
The Help to Grow Management scheme has been running since August, providing businesses with subsidised management and leadership training, and access to alumni networks and one-to-one mentoring.
They say Britain is a nation of shopkeepers. That’s still true, but we’re also a nation of tech entrepreneurs, software engineers, food scientists and more. It’s good to see East Hampshire in the heart of business innovation.
It is our local businesses that create local employment, our local economy that underpins the community. As we enter the final run up to Christmas - and this year in particular - supporting our high streets and local traders is incredibly important. They make our towns and villages what they are."