Rural businesses give thumbs-up to support programme

Leaders of more than 130 rural businesses have reported that a range of support from Lancashire County Council helped them prosper during a challenging period.

The £400k Rural Recovery Fund was established following the Covid pandemic to meet the needs of micro rural businesses and the farming community.

It has helped more than 130 businesses learn from each other, develop vital skills, and reach new customers.

The programme had a major focus on helping rural business leaders overcome isolation by meeting each other to share their knowledge and experience, and helping them acquire the digital skills needed to market their businesses.

An in-depth study carried out by the council's business growth team to evaluate the impact of the programme found:

  • Those taking part saw an average growth of 101 customers each
  • 91% felt more confident afterwards
  • 50% of businesses became more sustainable
  • 31% benefitted from digital skills training
  • 77% said receiving support from their peers had the biggest impact on their business

Elaine Shore, owner of The Estuary Riverside Chalets in Wyre, which offers high-quality fully accessible holiday accommodation, said: "The timing of the training was perfect as it helped us to stand tall and feel confident just as we were launching.

"The business development advice really helped us to attract our target clientele and informed us about how to obtain constructive feedback from guests. We’ve used this information to make additional investment in accessible equipment and furniture to ensure a great guest experience.

"The digital training has made a huge difference, and knowing how to make our business page on platforms such as Facebook look welcoming and professional has been invaluable, especially as we get around 60% of our business through there.

"I also learned the importance of joining Facebook groups and taking part in conversations where you're not necessarily selling yourself at that time, but it’s a great way to help people become aware of our business and consider us for future stays.

"The training also helped us to understand search engine optimisation, which means we've moved from page four to page one on Google.  It has made a phenomenal difference.

"We're really pleased with the way the business is going. From having around 70% occupancy last year, we've been full through from March until this November. People are coming for longer and we're getting even better reviews because we have responded to customer feedback. We're better equipped and have improved as a business."

The study found that 95% of the businesses supported were 'micro-businesses' with less than 10 employees. Over a quarter had been trading for more than 10 years, with 18% of them trading for less than 2 years. 36% had developed a new route to customers as a result of the programme, with 27% developing a new product or service.

County Councillor Aidy Riggott, cabinet member for economic development and growth, said: "The visitor economy is vital to Lancashire, and our business growth team recognised that there was a real opportunity to support the sustainability of Lancashire's small rural businesses, and help them realise their potential following what had been a period of great uncertainty.

"We worked with organisations such as the National Farmers Union and other partners to better understand the needs of this sector and came up with a package of support and training which businesses could choose from to suit their individual needs.

"I'm very pleased that our investment through the Rural Recovery Fund has achieved so much added value in terms of the growth of those businesses which participated, and the connections between businesses that have been fostered which will benefit them from for years to come."

The Rural Recovery Fund is just one of many projects throughout the county to receive funding from the Lancashire Economic Recovery and Growth Fund (LERG), a £12.8m programme established by the county council to help the local economy bounce back from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Notes to editors

Main picture: Elaine Shore owner of The Estuary Riverside Chalets