Ahead of pubs, bars and restaurants reopening on Saturday, Ben Houchen visited a Stockton pub to discover first-hand how a recently launched fund to support the hospitality and tourism sector is already helping businesses across the region.
The Welcome Back Fund is part of the Tees Valley mayor’s jobs plan for the region and is the first phase of a £1m year-long programme of support for front-line small and medium-sized businesses, offering grants of up to £1,500 as they seek to reopen following the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Houchen visited the Cleveland Bay in Eaglescliffe to meet landlord Peter Rafferty, who told him about the effect the coronavirus has had on his business, and how he was using the Welcome Back funding to prepare to reopen.
The visit came as it was revealed that the first tranche of Welcome Back funding was fully subscribed within less than a week of it opening.
The pub is set to reopen following a renovation carried out during lockdown highlighting that it is thought to be the world’s first railway pub.
Opened in October 1825, it served the coal yards of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which will also celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2025.
Mayor Houchen said: “It was fantastic to visit the Cleveland Bay and to see first-hand how Peter is using the Welcome Back Fund to protect local workers and get ready to welcome people back into his amazing pub.
“Our pubs, restaurants bars, hotels and venues are hugely important. Not only do they play a key role in supporting thousands of local jobs in our economy, they also bring so much joy to local people.
“That’s why I’ve made them a priority in my jobs plan for the economic recovery of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, and I’m backing them with the Welcome Back Fund.
“The hospitality, culture and tourism sectors are worth almost £1billion per year to our economy and employ thousands of hard-working local people, but these businesses have been some of the worst-hit by the coronavirus.
“So I am pleased that so many have applied to the Welcome Back Fund so that they can put in place the required measures to reopen while protecting the health and wellbeing of customers and visitors.”
Peter said: “As a business that relies on the public coming through our doors, we’ve obviously been hit hard by the pandemic but we decided to make the best of a bad situation.
“We knew that from the day we could open our doors again, we wanted to give everyone the best welcome we could so we’ve spent the time in lockdown redecorating to highlight our history.
“I’m grateful that the Welcome Back Fund has been able to help us with the reopening by funding all sorts of cleaning and safety items – sanitiser and dispensers, cleaning sprays, tape to mark out distancing and signage. It’s a great scheme that is helping us back on our feet after a bad patch and I’m happy to hear we’re not the only ones it’s benefitting.
“I can’t wait to get back behind the bar and say hello to locals and new faces alike.”
The Welcome Back Fund provides grants for companies to make changes to the way they work to accommodate customers after the lockdown, including funding safety measures such as screens and adding floor markings and sanitisation points at their premises.
The fund will also help businesses promote their reopening and help to ensure they meet the “We’re Good To Go” national tourism industry standards unveiled by Visit Britain.
The rest of the £1m investment will be used to bring more visitors to Tees Valley, and to help firms in the tourism, leisure and culture industries to cater for them and adapt to the new realities of doing business.
Measures to support them in the mayor’s twelve-month plan include a high-profile campaign to show that the region has reopened for visitors, as well as further financial support and training.
Mayor Houchen is also expected to announce plans to make the region a top UK destination for cycling and walking holidays.
The support package is being designed by Enjoy Tees Valley, the Tees region’s destination marketing organisation.