Warwickshire's 'incredible' businesses have responded to every challenge
Next month Sarah Windrum will take over as chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. It is a time of great challenges for the business community and local economy but, in an exclusive guest column for WMB, Sarah pays tribute to the way businesses in Warwickshire have risen to those challenges - and outlines her confidence that the county and region will bounce back.
I am hugely honoured to be taking over as Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership Chair at the start of April following the tremendous work that our current Chair, Nick Abell, has done during this last year of crisis.
As a CWLEP Board we are acutely aware of the challenges that our economy faces in a post-Covid, post EU Exit world - and we know it will take hard graft and positive partnerships to come out stronger on the other side. But before the pandemic we were the fastest growing economic geography in the country and I feel sure together we will get back to those days once again.
Throughout my life I have seen that with challenge comes opportunity; and this has been evident throughout our business community in the pandemic. The Growth Hub has worked with some incredible businesses pivoting to offer new products and services when their existing markets disappeared.
Just one example of a business I personally work with is Showplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. They are an events business providing exhibition stands of all shapes and sizes who pivoted when the events industry closed to build Covid-safe visitor pods for care homes across the country.
In the CWLEP Digital Creative Business Group, we met virtually in early May 2020 to discuss our response and came up with three clear priorities: supporting freelancers; exploring new engagement with creative spaces; and using technology to benefit our High Streets.
Nearly a year on, we have had some important success from our short term activities. Our Freelancer work led by Sarah Brewster has fed into the West Midlands State of the Region report and also helped shape Government policy through our collaboration with the Creative Industries Foundation. Local Authorities are now reaching out to freelancer communities across the UK to support them with discretionary grants.
Our work on new engagement has led to Noisegate Studios delivering livestreamed creative content for events like CW Champions and the Warwick District Christmas Light Switch On. We are also supporting a programme for up-skilling our local cultural organisations to deliver a blend of digital and real world experiences and I will be sure to share more details on that when they become available.
Our third priority - using technology to support our High Streets - led to the High Street Tech Challenge, funded by Warwickshire County Council, which recently awarded pilot funding to three projects across the county from North to South. These projects are all using technology to support a safe and engaging High Street experience to encourage visitors and residents back to our town centres. Again, more to be announced soon!
You only had to walk through your local Warwickshire town centre during lockdown to see how much our High Streets are struggling and we have given this renewed focus at CWLEP with our partners across the region. Our Reset Framework, launched at the end of last year, focuses on the core objective of making Coventry & Warwickshire a safe and highly attractive place to live, work, study, and invest.
The Reset Implementation Plan, which has been driven by input from our Business Groups, is hot off the press and our local communities have a crucial role to play. CWLEP board directors, both public and private sector, have been actively engaged with the successful Future High Streets bids for Nuneaton and Leamington; and Sean Farnell is Chair of the Town Investment Plan Board for Nuneaton too as a key business leader in the town.
My involvement with both Future High Street bids has been looking at how we ensure we have the necessary hard and soft infrastructure and skills to take fullest advantage of the commercial opportunities coming in the ‘Experience Age’. 5G is going to enable mobile engagement and experiences across our town centres like never before and we are well placed to develop global innovation and next generation products and services in this area.
I have no doubt that our strong, collaborative partnerships, our ability to identify and develop new investment opportunities, and our track record in delivering economic growth across the region will see us through challenging times and ready to shape and embrace the future.