Private sector-led initiative provides finance and support for Covid-19 hit small businesses.

A fast-growing band of North East businesses, lead organisations and individuals have raised tens of thousands of pounds, to assist companies looking to recover from Covid-19.

The not-for-profit company, Open North Foundation, was established in June 2020. It formed as a direct response to the devastating impact COVID-19 was having on small to medium sized businesses in the North East, many of whom do not qualify for direct government grants.

The foundation is calling upon businesses and individuals throughout the region to pledge financial support as part of a private sector-led initiative to rebuild the regional economy. Businesses receiving financial support are considered to deliver long term positive economic impact and create high quality jobs. In most cases, grants range from £1,000 to £5,000.

Founder and chair of Open North Foundation, is Richard Swart, global sales director, Berger Group Europe and vice chair is Colin Hewitt, partner, Ward Hadaway Solicitors. Directors are Teesside entrepreneur, Claire Preston, area business manager for Barclays, David Foreman, director of Wessington Cryogenics, Gill Courtney, director, Stephenson-Mohl Group, Mark Stephenson and MHA Tait Walker, director, Paul Shields.

In the short time since its conception, the foundation has supported several regional businesses that meet the criteria to be awarded a grant. These include its first beneficiary, South Shields gym, Queen Street Fitness, which was awarded £1,500 plus marketing support and Stokesley-based, TK’s Café and Catering, which received a £1,600 grant to purchase an electronic point of sale system.

TK’s café owner, Damon Wright, is also the first business owner to reap the benefit of Open North Foundation’s strategic partnership with Northumbria University, announced last December.

Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School, the only North East business school accredited by the Small Business Charter, is offering places to the foundation’s qualifying grant applicants on its Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) – a free 10-week strategic training programme for senior leaders in SMEs (those employing between 5-249 employees).

Funded by The Dept. for Business Energy Industrial Strategy, the programme covers a range of practical topics and is hosted online by SME experts, including entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from Newcastle Business School.

Under the agreement, Open North Foundation received a £10,000 cash donation from Northumbria, its single largest support package to date, which it has used to fund grants.

If you or your business is in a position to pledge financial and or service support, join Open North Foundation in its fight to secure the future of North East businesses. Full details of what the foundation does and requirements to qualify for support can be found here www.opennorthfoundation.co.uk.

Daniel O’Mahoney – Open North Foundation