The coronavirus challenge

The team at the University of Central Lancashire’s Centre for SME Development are working closely with businesses across the county to support them as they tackle the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.

They have reached out to its free membership of around 1,000 SMEs to help them explore ways to respond and recover from the difficulties they are facing as well as identify opportunities, share ideas and develop good practice. And the programme is now delivering strong results.

The Centre for SME Development holds bi-weekly ‘knowledge exchange’ meetings for its members as they work to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Alison Hitchen, interim head of SME development at UCLan, says: “Our aim is to deliver member-led support to complement the wide range of business support available as we ease out of this pandemic, both from the university and other organisations such as Boost.

“We are here to support Lancashire SMEs and the online knowledge exchange meetings are proving to be a valuable resource for the business community.

Providing a place where the membership community can come together and learn from other businesses whilst benefiting from the expertise we have at the university, we are working together to build stronger businesses for the future.”

The centre has also created a number of ‘Good Practice Groups’ (GPGs), which have developed and grown out of the online meet-ups.

Alison says: “They are a spin-off from the knowledge exchange meetings. Groups are formed when two or more members have a shared interest and a passion to progress a particular issue or opportunity.

“A network of GPGs has formed and the key learnings are disseminated to the wider membership. It is proving very valuable and a good way for people to explore specific topics and share what they have learned to help others.”

And in another support initiative, the centre and Propeller Student Enterprise teams have come together for the SME community. Qualified business advisors are working with SMEs on a one-to-one basis, advising and supporting them with their individual challenges.

Responding to the needs of SMEs, a number of new workshops have been developed in subjects ranging from building resilience to creative thinking in a crisis and moving your business online.

Meanwhile, its researchers have launched an important research project, supported by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Phoenix is exploring the effects of Covid-19 on small and medium sized enterprises to help shape the support that will be needed in the future and the pathways to recovering from the current crisis.

The centre focuses on creating synergies between SMEs, the academic community and the student and graduate body. It works to deliver world class research and enterprise education and to connect SMEs into a network to deliver sustainable development.

Paula Jenkins, founder of Chorley-based food business Our Paula’s, is among those who have benefitted from tapping into the university’s expertise.

Paula, whose company makes a range of products including plant-based and vegan butter and pate, says: “The work we’ve done with the university has helped us clear the path we need to take as a business.”

The support has helped in the development of the business, with issues including trademarking and its plans to open a production unit later this summer.

Paula adds: “It has also made me realise how much support there is out there for businesses and what universities can offer people.

“It’s a message that I look to share with other business owners. If there is stuff you are struggling with, there is help out there for you.”

SMEs across Lancashire are being urged to take part in UCLan’s Phoenix project as it looks down the path to economic recovery.

Professor Sue Smith (pictured), professor in innovation and enterprise and the Director of the centre, says the leading-edge research will play a vital role in helping businesses emerge from the pandemic. Sue’s work harnessing social learning and knowledge exchange was recognised with an international award for Knowledge Exchange.

She says: “We are working closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and key Regional SME support bodies such as Boost to inform how we all support the SMEs, now and in the future. We are also providing input into Parliament to provide a Lancashire voice to the national recovery.”

Businesses can give their voice to the project here:

To contact the Centre for SME Development:

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