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Curtain call for mentor network which helped hundreds of firms

PUBLISHED: 10:24 14 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:24 14 June 2018

Members of the Norfolk Knowledge back in 2012. From left, Keith Beck; Andrew Richardson; John Chapman; Gavin Sargent; Richard Garnett, chairman of the Innovation Panel; Henry Head; Barry Dennis; and Mike Kirkham. Picture: Denise Bradley

Members of the Norfolk Knowledge back in 2012. From left, Keith Beck; Andrew Richardson; John Chapman; Gavin Sargent; Richard Garnett, chairman of the Innovation Panel; Henry Head; Barry Dennis; and Mike Kirkham. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant copyright 2012

A voluntary organisation which has mentored 500 Norfolk businesses and entrepreneurs over the past decade is winding down its operations.

Christy Lewis-Phillips, founder of The Massage Hut at The Grove in Cromer. Picture: Jonathan LewisChristy Lewis-Phillips, founder of The Massage Hut at The Grove in Cromer. Picture: Jonathan Lewis

Norfolk Knowledge, which is supported by and supports the work of the University of East Anglia and Norwich Business School, was formed in 2009 by a group of volunteer business people and managers.

After initially focusing on helping small companies to grow, it went on to provide support for business school students in events such as the graduate trainee management scheme and saw involvement from 100 mentors.

Following discussions about its viability, the network will not take on any more requests for mentoring support and will formally stop operating on August 31 – but the university has offered assurances of its continuing commitment to support graduate entrepreneurship and the business community.

Peter Schmidt-Hansen, chairman of the Norfolk Knowledge management team, said there had been a need for the group when it started in the aftermath of the financial crash.

But a change in the landscape of business support meant demand for its services had gradually decreased.

“Norfolk Knowledge was able to contribute its considerable range of competencies and experience to those [small business] owners in a way that was simple, free and without complicated contractual obligation,” Mr Schmidt-Hansen said.

“However, since that time, many more options for small business support have become available, often with financial support through loans or grants.”

He added: “The Norfolk Knowledge members and management team can be justly proud of their achievements over the last 10 years, knowing they have supported the local business community in a positive way.”

Prof Paul Dobson, the head of Norwich Business School, said: “Helping small businesses grow 
is vital to the local economy in creating jobs and prosperity, and the assistance provided by 
Norfolk Knowledge has provided 
a lasting benefit for local businesses as well as serving our students.”

An event to celebrate the work of Norfolk Knowledge is planned for the evening of Thursday, September 13.

Case study

One of the businesses to benefit from Norfolk Knowledge was The Massage Hut in

Cromer.

Massage therapist Christy Lewis-Phillips wanted to start her own business but wanted guidance, and sought help from the network.

Following several months of mentoring she launched her business in December 2017.

She said the network had been “absolutely crucial” to her in setting up on her own and that its loss was a “real shame”.

“It might just be that other businesses are offering the same kind of service and there are too many people in the marketplace, but for me Norfolk Knowledge hit just the right spot,” she said.

Mrs Lewis-Phillips was mentored by Catherine Wedge-Clarke, who she says she still keeps in contact with.

“I go back to her to refocus – without that it would be easy to go off on a tangent and confuse yourself,” she said.

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