More than 300 businesses have been supported and over 3,500 jobs safeguarded through a County Durham coronavirus recovery grant.
The Durham Business Recovery Grant was launched by Durham County Council in January to help companies overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic, as part of the authority’s commitment to supporting the local economy.
To date, it has helped 318 businesses across the county.
The grant was aimed at businesses affected by coronavirus pandemic which were developing recovery plans to meet the challenges they faced – such as purchasing new equipment, developing new products, expanding into new markets, and adapting their operational models.
The scheme, overseen by the council’s dedicated business support service Business Durham, offered businesses with a clear recovery plan, grants from £1,000 up to a maximum of £40,000 and contributed 75 per cent towards eligible recovery plan costs, with the applicants expected to meet a quarter of the project cost.
Originally set at £5m, due to high demand for the grants, an additional £1m was added to the fund bringing it to a £6m scheme, with the council working hard to assess and process applications quickly.
Grants have been awarded to companies varying in size from micro-businesses to those employing up to 250 people in County Durham from a range of sectors including: business services, construction, healthcare, information and communication, retail and hospitality, leisure, manufacturing and engineering, and tourism.
The majority of grants (95 per cent) have been awarded to micro or smaller businesses employing up to 50 staff.
Grants have been awarded to 119 companies (37 per cent) in retail and personal services, 61 companies (19 per cent) in manufacturing and engineering, 60 companies (19 per cent) in the cultural, creative and tourism sectors and 34 companies (11 per cent) in business services, professional services and distribution, with the remaining 44 companies (14 per cent) coming from other sectors.
Each of the 318 companies have secured grants to enable them to purchase new equipment, develop new products, adapt their operational models and expand into new markets.
Flamingo Bar & Café in Seaham was awarded a grant of £14,900 to purchase new equipment which enabled the café to speed up service and adapt its premises to adhere to Covid-secure requirements by creating an outdoor food storage area, so it could increase seating and serve more customers.
Hannah Jackson-Harrison, owner of Flamingo Bar & Café, said: “Durham County Council has been amazing throughout the whole of the pandemic, and I just don’t think we would have muddled through if we hadn’t had the help in the form of business support grants from it. The grants came through very quickly and communication from various departments within the council has been fantastic.
“The Business Recovery Grant has enabled me to improve systems, increase seating and speed up service, meaning that when we step out of this pandemic and back into more ‘normal’ times we are ready to hit the ground running and pick up where we left off in March 2020.”
Aycliffe Fabrications received a £32,200 grant which it put towards the cost of the purchase of two new pieces of machinery enabling it to expand the service offering and open up new markets.
Christine Bewley, managing director at Aycliffe Fabrications, said: “Aycliffe Fabrications was delighted to receive funding from the Durham Business Recovery Grant.
“With the help of the consultant assigned to us it was easy to discuss not only our future plans, but where our business had come from and how the grant would enable us to move forward after a difficult year.
“Many small engineering businesses like ourselves have been greatly impacted by Covid and the fact that Durham County Council has recognised this and looked carefully at all grant applications across all sectors has been invaluable.
“It cannot be underestimated how much it has meant to know that an outside organisation has looked at our company and agreed that we are worth investing in and that together we will ensure a secure future for our employees, customers and suppliers.”
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “Over the past 16 months, County Durham businesses have displayed immense resilience, adaptability and innovation, as they continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. It has been fantastic to see companies diversify to survive by expanding into new markets and manufacturing different products.
“However, we appreciate how difficult it has been for businesses and it is vital that we do what we can to help businesses recover and look to the future.
“That is why we launched our £5m Durham Business Recovery Grant scheme earlier this year, adding the additional £1m due to the demand to demonstrate our commitment to local businesses, enabling them to adapt and thrive, safeguarding jobs and developing a sustainable economy for the long term.
“It is fantastic to see we have been able to support over 300 companies across the county in six months.
“The comments we have received from the companies demonstrate just how important this grant scheme has been to help them get back on track for the future, and to safeguard vital jobs and livelihoods in the county.
“We hope that with the support from the grant scheme, these businesses can continue to thrive, creating more and better jobs and contributing towards a strong competitive economy for the future.”
The scheme has now closed for applications but all those received will be assessed.