Government funded support for local small businesses

While the headlines focus on the likes of Debenhams and Topshop, the impact of Covid-19 on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) gets lost in the small print, writes Professor Sarah Underwood, Director of External Engagement, Leeds University Business School.

Professor Sarah Underwood, Director of External Engagement, Leeds University Business School

I’ve seen first-hand the intensity of the challenges that the pandemic has presented for Yorkshire’s SMEs One thing is clear – while they have shown their resilience, many SME owners have felt isolated, particularly in their decision-making, and have missed being able to share their experiences with peers.

That’s why I’m so pleased that Leeds University Business School will be delivering another series of interactive networks across West Yorkshire to help bring together small business owners to discuss and overcome many of the challenges they face. By bringing together diverse groups of individuals, we will collaboratively work through common business issues.

The programme, called ‘Peer Networks’, is funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and is open to SME leaders from organisations that have at least five employees and have an aspiration to grow.

This is a national peer-to-peer networking programme for those that want to grow and develop their organisation for future success. There’s no cost to participate – they only have to commit to 6 weekly sessions of 3 hours, and an individual coaching session.

This will be the second time that Leeds University Business School has supported this programme: between October 2020 and March 2021, around 60 local business from West Yorkshire signed up.

Working with these local business leaders over the two months was a really powerful experience. I saw passionate business leaders who had felt really pressured and isolated by the impacts of Covid-19 suddenly finding their resilience again.

But don’t just take my word for it. Tracey Dawson, Managing Director of Daletech, an electronics manufacturing company in Pudsey, was one of those who attended last year. She said: “I would highly recommend this programme to any owner or director of a small business.

The environment provided a safe place to discuss issues with people who were facing, or had faced, similar problems. Sarah and her team were exemplary and allowed us the space to work on the business rather than in it!”

Liz Weatherill, Managing Director of Enable 2, a community interest company that provides translation services, said: “Each week we are working with a group of like-minded people who are facing exactly the same challenges as all SME’s.

Each week there is a different topic skilfully facilitated by a lecturer from the business school. It’s been brilliant for sharing contacts, advice, tips and tried and tested methods. Being a business leader can often be a lonely place so a network of support like this is essential.”

Leeds University Business School delivers this programme on behalf of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The scheme was developed in response to a commitment made in the 2019 Business Productivity Review to help local businesses share expertise on leadership, business development and technology adoption.

SMEs are facing a fast-moving and changing business environment. Even the smallest external impacts can have a catastrophic impact. Covid-19 has taken this to another level. But what the Peer Networks programme showed me is also how agile SMEs can be to take advantage of opportunities, so long as they have the right support and access to networks like this where they can openly share their ideas and gain valuable feedback.

Businesses can find out more here: