A financial support scheme which proved vital for SMEs in the Southeast is set to close in June. Businesses are being urged to apply now to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SE LEP) now before the funds become unavailable.
Almost 700 businesses have already availed of the SE LEP support, £2.4million Recovery Funds Programme it has been revealed.
The one-year scheme provides free advice, training resources and individual grants of up to £2,000 to help recipients minimise the impact of the pandemic.
In excess of 650 South East businesses sought assistance from the programme which is due to end on June 30.
Due to soaring inflation and energy prices demand soared over the Spring period. The scheme, the Covid-19 Business Support Fund, funded by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, is delivered by support organisation WSX Enterprise in Essex, East Sussex, Kent, Medway, Southend and Thurrock.
Support spans all areas of business activity, from utilising digital technologies for financial management, to operations and marketing.
Business owners on the scheme have praised the way it has helped them overcome delays and challenges caused by the current economic situation. A number of beneficiaries have urged the business community to apply now.
Meryl Dobson, co-owner of a deckchair hire and sales firm in Essex, the Maldon Deckchair Company, said: “Right from the start, our advisor got behind our concept, kept us motivated and showed confidence we could go on and create a lovely business. I would advise anyone in a small business to get in touch and follow the scheme. Make use of the resources. There is so much there you can use, so helpful.”
Meryl’s sentiments are echoed by Josephine Pollard who runs an artisan sourdough bakery, To The Rise, in Eastbourne with her two sisters.
Josephine said: “The advisers are super-friendly and always available to contact. They give really amazing support tailored to us and what we need. We’re going to put some of the grant towards a digital system that automates dough, pastry and other ingredient calculations for more efficient ordering.”
Another recipient of support is Kevin O’Connor of the Ramsgate Arts Barge. This is a community interest company creating an arts centre and community space through the renovation of a 133-year-old Dutch barge moored in Ramsgate harbour.
Kevin and his partner Natasha became directors in March 2020 just 72 hours before the first UK lockdown was announced.
“It was probably the worst time in history to try and start a capital works project,” he recalled. “Lots of grants that could have been available were paused or removed and it became a real struggle to keep it moving forward.”
Having now benefited from the Covid support scheme, Kevin said: “The programme is very easy to follow and I think its long-term impact will be huge. Our advisor really took the time to understand what we are trying to achieve and together we decided how best to spend the grant money. We had no available funds for website development so we worked on that aspect.”
Robyn Brookes, Project Manager for WSX Enterprise, is urging other businesses to come forward for help before the scheme ends on 30 June 2022.
She said: “The programme is there to iron out and remove any blockers stopping you from going ahead with your business post Covid. It is especially relevant now as people with small businesses start to build back stronger from the impact of the pandemic, but see rising living costs, the highest inflation rate for 40 years and higher energy bills kicking in. We have made it as easy as possible for people to access help under the programme through one-to-one contact with experienced business advisers plus group support, 24/7 access to training videos and of course the grant funding.”