Earlier this year, our Labour Council teamed up with St Helens Chamber and the local franchise of Business Doctors to launch ‘Business Advocates’ – a free resource for independent traders seen as a key part of the council’s Economic Reset and Recovery Strategy – and the scheme is now being rolled out further.
With investment coming from various grant funding streams, including the Metro Mayor’s Town Centres Fund and the European Regional Development Fund’s Welcome Back Scheme, phase one of the initiative – which focused on St Helens and Earlestown town centres – saw business specialists visit more than 120 traders across a variety of sectors to understand the opportunities or issues they are currently facing.
The project also provided 12 events, involving networking opportunities and training workshops, with hands-on expert knowledge, strategic planning and goal setting among the advice provided.
Following its success to date, Business Advocates will now be rolled out to other district areas in St Helens Borough which have a strong retail, hospitality, and general business presence, including Newton-le-Willows, Rainford, Fingerpost, Rainhill and Thatto Heath, among others – with business owners encouraged to come forward to enquire about free support.
Claire Jones, owner of Self Love Salon in St Helens Town Centre, has spoken of her positive experience with the initiative.
Claire said: “Being involved with Business Advocates has opened lots more avenues of being able to get help, support, and funding for things. I might have had to let go of one of my staff, but I’ve managed to get help and have been guided in the right direction with that.
“Although I’m a hairdresser with a business, I’ve never done a business degree so I’m getting support with business plans with the financial side which I’ve never had training in – I’d just been learning on the job and it’s hard to grow a business when you’ve not got the proper foundations.”
Encouraging fellow business owners to make the most of the opportunity, Claire added:
“You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can never learn too much and if you want to grow your business and you’re open to learning and taking advice and following it, it’s really inspiring and motivating when you get the right support.”
Councillor Kate Groucutt, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy, Business and Skills, said: “Local independent businesses are the heartbeat of our town and district centres, and we know the last couple of years have been very difficult. We hope the expert support provided through this scheme will help them to grow, strengthen their business and employ more local people, as well as contributing to the revival of our town centres and high streets.
“We had fantastic feedback from businesses who have benefited from phase one of the scheme, so I’m pleased we’re able to continue this project which will reach out to even more businesses across our borough.”
Steve Smith, Business Doctor for the St Helens area, said: “Being St Helens born and bred it has been a pleasure and a privilege supporting local business owners. We have come through very tough times, with a future still full of uncertainties. However, through the Business Advocates initiative, the council has allowed us to pass on help and advice, and in some cases just being there to talk to has really helped.
“As we extend beyond the town centres in phase two, there is a wider range of opportunities for engagement. We hope to get more attendance at the workshops, and we’d encourage people to reach out.”
Tracy Mawson, Chief Executive at St Helens Chamber, commented: “We’ve seen first-hand the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses across the borough, and we’re pleased to have been able to work with St Helens Borough Council to provide support through the Business Advocates project.
“The extension of the project is great news and will allow us to help a wider pool of companies in the borough not only to get back on their feet, but to look to the future and see how they can grow and develop. The Chamber are ready to support these businesses every step of the way and look forward to working with many businesspeople across the borough.”
To find out how your business can benefit from this initiative, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01744 742125 or visit www.sthelens.gov.uk/businessadvocates for more information.