A new programme to support town centre traders in ‘bouncing back’ after lockdown has launched in Darlington.
Centred around peer-to-peer training sessions, focusing on resilience and recovery for the high street, the initiative is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Darlington Council.
The free training includes six face-to-face online sessions of peer-to-peer networking and learning with the opportunity to work with Ruth Lowbridge MBE (pictured above), from SFEDI Group.
Darlington-based Ruth has extensive knowledge of working with independent and national businesses across the country with specialist expertise in skills and know-how development for small, medium and micro-businesses.
So far, the training has attracted businesses owners from a variety of sectors including clothing, food, beauty and hospitality.
Earlier support from the ERDF saw the introduction of pavement cafes, street art and theatre as well as the installation of hand sanitising stations, social distancing pavement markings last summer and the promotion of delivery and click and collect services from Darlington town centre in the run up to Christmas.
During the first session business owners and managers were able to talk openly with other local businesses, share ideas and experiences, find out about how other businesses are coping with lockdown and feed into plans for re-opening.
Councillor Alan Marshall, economy portfolio holder for Darlington Council, said: “Darlington’s retailers and hospitality businesses have responded quickly and imaginatively to lockdown restrictions, turning to social media and other digital platforms and adapting to deliveries and click and collect services where safe to do so.
“These face-to-face peer-to-peer sessions are facilitated by the council’s town centre team and provide an opportunity for our businesses to learn from each other.
“Access to expert advice from Ruth Lowbridge from SFEDI will help develop ideas and tactics to support business both during and after lockdown.
“With its wide range of small independent business and larger retailers, Darlington is a key regional shopping destination.
“This is a position we are keen to maintain, support and advance by working in partnership with business partners in our town to spearhead recovery as quickly as possible.”
Taryn Waite, director of Luke Anthony’s Barbering Academy in Darlington said: “When we first went into lockdown, like many businesses, we didn’t know what we were going to do.
“From what seemed like a disaster, some positives have emerged. We spend a tremendous amount on digital advertising and I have used the time to brush up on my digital marketing knowledge – enabling us to add extra strings to our online training including portal upgrades, reaching more people with our online barbering courses.
“Just to meet likeminded people and being able to learn from each other is invaluable in what can be a scary time.
“I have done a lot of online sessions like this and Ruth was great at getting people to speak and is a really skilled facilitator. I learned a lot about the support that the council is able to provide too.
“By pulling together like this and sharing knowledge we can help each other survive.”