Earlier this year, the UK Government commissioned the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority to launch its Start and Grow Programme – for Fenland, Peterborough and Huntingdonshire – through its Growth Hub, funded via the Community Renewal Fund. What does this mean in a practical sense? It means that there’s now a very big pot of government grant funding for new and emerging businesses, together with business training and skills development.
We spoke to Pauline Prockter, Programme Director of the Start and Grow Programme, on behalf of the CPCA Growth Hub, to find out more…
Where and how did the Community Renewal Fund originate, who put the whole thing in motion?
Pauline Prockter: It all started because the government wanted to launch a pilot scheme, which would inform them about how to drive through a new program they’re going to launch later in the year, called the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The Community Renewal Fund is really to help the government understand the processes that work well with clients. They put the program out to tender – it was offered out across the whole country – and 30 different areas bid for a part of this funding, which is from quite a large pot of money.
We, together with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, put the bid in and won the biggest pot of money in the whole of the country!
This Community Renewal Fund programme, called Start and Grow, will work with people who might have thought about starting a business, but may not have had the business knowledge to do this or because they didn’t have the money behind them, to actually get their business off the ground. We’re also looking to work with businesses that are micro-businesses, that would like to grow but again, don’t have the money or necessary business skills to take that next leap and scale their business. The micro-businesses have to be under three years old and employ fewer than three people to be eligible for our support.
What’s the timescale for the programme? At what point will you know that the project has achieved its aims?
We have a six-month window, which started in January 2022, to deliver this program. The idea is to recruit people who want to start a business or grow a micro-business, and provide the wraparound support to help them do just that. So, if the startups need help with writing business plans, or putting together their financials, we bring them onto relevant workshops, or provide one-to-one support to help with their challenges. If they’re established businesses, and they need help with boosting specific activities such as marketing and growing their customer-base, we’ll be running workshops to help them develop those elements of their business, too. They might want to rewrite their business growth plan or work more on financial proposals – again, we offer specific workshops and have advisors that will work hand-in-hand with them. The ultimate aim is to give them the support they need to take that next step.
We will also help them to apply for grant funding – we’re working on average grants for a pre-start businesses of around £9000. For an established business, the average would be about £12,500, but they could apply for grants up to about £30,000. They can use that money for a variety of things to help them start or grow their business, for example bringing in a consultant to help them with their marketing; they could use some of the money for equipment (but not stock), which will help if they’re looking to kit out a shop or buy some tools, for example.
The ultimate aim of this program is to support as many people as possible, either to start or growth their business.
Are there any parameters on what kind of business can apply?
It can be any sector, and we can work with any type of business. We can work with community interest companies (but not charities), a limited company or sole trader – just as long as they have been trading under three years with up to three staff! Obviously, we will work with any entrepreneur thinking of starting a business.
What’s the postcode people have to live in if they want to claim help and/or a grant?
For this particular program it’s all the postal codes that begin PE, so Fenland, Peterborough and Huntington. These are areas deemed by the government to be most in need of this type of additional business support.
How are you tackling accessibility for people – those with disabilities, of course, but also maybe people who perhaps just don’t have a great bus service? Will all this support be available to access online?
We started out providing online support, but now our advisors are available across Peterborough, Hunts and Fenland, offering face-to-face sessions. We first invite a client onto an introductory one-hour online workshop where we give them an overview of what they can expect from the program, and from there they can formally enroll. Enrollment means not just potential access to a grant – but they can tap into all of the support services as well, including workshops, access to our interactive learning platform, and one-to-one coaching. If they are interested in accessing funding, they’re invited to a grant workshop, which again is done online.
We walk them through the process of how to apply for the grant, what other documents they need to supply, how they fill in the application form, and they get allocated a dedicated advisor.
For those who are not comfortable with online sessions, we are also offering support through the libraries across the region, so people can book slots if they’d prefer a face-to-face session with an advisor instead. We’re trying to open up all avenues to people, whether it’s online or face-to-face. In our face-to-face sessions, we provide paper copies of forms for clients to fill in with the advisor, and for those people without printers or scanners, we’ve been accepting documents that have been scanned on their phones.
We are trying to be open to any mechanism that someone might have at their disposal to get an application in to us.
Will you be offering things like budgeting advice, teaching people how to take ownership of things like managing cash flow, doing the books?
That’s the big one that most people struggle with, particularly a startup business. We’ve lots of online resources to offer our clients, and when clients get their advisor allocated, he or she will talk to them about cash flow. If they’re not sure how to do it, we can supply them with a cashflow forecasting template. Part of our support includes free access to our interactive online learning portal, which we can use to take clients through different parts of finance and we’ve also got a few workshops running specifically on cash flow forecasting as well.
Presumably there will be something similar for, say, getting up to speed on employment regulations and so forth? Health and safety in the workplace, how to treat your employees correctly, that kind of thing?
Yes – again, our interactive learning portal has information about HR and employment law. Our advisors all have good knowledge around this too and can help provide information and answers to client questions. Our advisors are trained to explore the level of knowledge that individuals hold on different business skills and areas, and also to understand the stage they are at on their business journey. They will then provide bespoke advice per client that suits their situation. We can also tap into lots of business information libraries, and we can draw down information and pass that over to our clients also – anything from business insurance to health and safety.
How do you personally feel about the whole project? It must be really nice for you to be at the vanguard of something that sounds like it’s going to be incredibly helpful.
It’s a lovely thing to be involved with. What it’s doing is giving people an opportunity – they might have a brilliant idea, but the just don’t have quite enough money to get it off the ground. We’re giving businesses the skills they need and a bit of a leg-up, too – because the available grant funding is phenomenal!
I’ve seen grants over the years where it might be 20% – you might get a 20% grant and you have to put in 80% – but when you’ve only got to put in 10% and get 90% of the overall costs of what you’re looking to set-up – it’s a ‘no-brainer’ to sign-up and make the most of this funding.
Visit cpcagrowthhub.co.uk/community-renewal-fund-crf for more information on the Community Renewal Fund.
To enroll, visit cpcagrowthhub.co.uk/community-renewal-fund-lets-get-started and to find out more about grants, visit cpcagrowthhub.co.uk/start-and-grow-crf-grants-explained