Rescue offer on hand to help local shops

Local businesses will be getting a helping hand to stay open, thanks to a new project launched today.

Local businesses will be getting a helping hand to stay open, thanks to a new project launched today.

Post offices, shops, pubs, restaurants, garages and cafes in rural areas can apply for expert advice and then for a grant to help them put the recommendations into action.

The aim is to keep threatened rural businesses open and help them to thrive. Seventy-two parishes in south Norfolk are eligible for the scheme, including those around Diss, Harleston and the Norfolk side of the Waveney valley, Loddon and north towards Norwich.

It is hoped that businesses will share the lessons they have learned through business forums, and the lessons learnt will also be rolled out across Norfolk as a model for how to support of small independent rural businesses.

Called Rural Enterprise Network Support, the £130,000 scheme is led by South Norfolk Council on behalf of the Norfolk Rural Shops Alliance, which itself has members including East Anglia Food Link, Norfolk Rural Community Council, Produced in Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.

Margot Harbour, of Harleston Development Partnership, is managing the project.

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She said: “There is definitely a great need for this. Many local businesses are closing. For example, Roydon, near Diss, recently lost its garage, which had a small shop. They have also lost their village shop. They have got nothing at all.”

Businesses can pick from a panel of consultants with different areas of expertise, who will visit their business, look at its strengths and weaknesses, and offer tailor-made advice on how to improve. Businesses can apply for half the costs of the improvements they choose to make, up to a maximum of £1,500.

The project, paid for by the European-funded Leader+ programme and the European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Fund, starts today and runs until June next year. For the first six months it will focus on villages, but from November businesses in Diss, Harleston and Loddon can apply.

The EDP has been running a Use It or Lose It campaign encouraging people to use local businesses, which includes Shop Here stickers for independent local businesses.

Eppie Zandvoort, South Norfolk councillor for the economy, said: “I want to also thank the EDP for its Shop Here campaign. If we all pull together like this, customers and tourists will return because they want the unique, personal and friendly service, where they are valued. The customers get the service they want, and the community as a whole prospers.”

She added: “The long term future of our local post offices, shops and business is too important to be left to market forces alone. If you leave local shops and services to the mercy of big retailers, you could lose them.

“What our community shops and businesses need is practical support and advice to get the customers voting with their feet - and walking back through the doors.”