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Hundreds of Lancashire business leaders learn from each other through Government-backed programme

Peer Networks Alex Young and children

More than 320 business owners and managers from across Lancashire have worked together to solve common challenges, share knowledge and grow as part of a Government-funded business support programme. The businesses have recruited staff, launched products and services, found new markets and improved their business resilience through the Peer Networks programme, which brought together owners and managers in a series of structured virtual sessions to help them learn from each other.

The fully-funded programme is now set to help hundreds more businesses over the coming year after receiving further funding due to its impact. Business leaders to benefit from the programme included Dot McCarthy, from Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Rossendale who is currently offering goats from her farm for hire on video calls for a fee. Dot has made more than £50,000 through offering the service for business or personal calls during the Covid-19 pandemic and has received support through Peer Networks to expand the virtual service. She is now using animals on her farm to deliver video messages using edible paper.

She said: “We had an idea that we could film or show the animals with a note, for things like a gender reveal. It probably would have stayed on the backburner but through Peer Networks I met somebody with a background in animal nutrition. “I shared the concept about the goats eating edible vegan paper with a message. With her knowledge and experience we have now launched this and we’re receiving a lot of enquiries.”

Peer Networks was funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and led locally by Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub. The programme ran between October 2020 and March this year. Dot’s group was facilitated by Northern Power Women and brought together female business leaders from a range of industries in Lancashire. It was one of 34 Peer Networks cohorts funded through the initiative with each cohort made up of 8-11 Lancashire business leaders. Peer Networks brought the groups together for focused peer learning sessions aimed at helping business owners and managers solve key business challenges, capitalise on new opportunities and develop a quality long-term network of connections.

The programme also included one-to-one coaching for participating business leaders. Dan Hurtley is managing director of Dan Hurtley Ltd, a Lancaster-based handcrafted furniture manufacturer and installer. He was introduced to Peer Networks by Boost mentor Paul Aisthorpe, who facilitated Dan’s cohort. Dan said: “Without Paul and the Peer Networks programme I would still be a one-man band.

We have now got four members of staff. We’re looking for new premises and I want to grow the company to a team of 10 “Joining Peer Networks gave me confidence, it’s good to bounce your ideas off other business owners and managers. I soon realised every business comes across similar obstacles.” Another business to benefit from the programme was Stanley Villa Farm Fishing and Camping near Kirkham. 

The company was unable to trade for large parts of last year and took part in a Peer Networks cohort led by Marketing Lancashire which brought together leisure, tourism and hospitality businesses. Alex Young, manager of the site, said: “A lot of the business owners and managers we met through Peer Networks have had similar issues to us with staff being away for long periods of time. “For the initial weeks after our reopening we need to trade under strict social distancing guidelines, which have created a number of issues, for example around our shared toilet facilities. “We’ve received a huge amount of help by discussing our ideas on specific areas such as planning which has helped us overcome these issues and make our site safe and viable for visitors this year.

“We’ve also received support on marketing such as a peer review of our website as well as other areas of the business which will position us for a positive 2021.” The company is now planning to take on an apprentice to cover areas including marketing and administration. Due to the success of the Peer Networks programme, BEIS has announced funding for a further 26 Peer Networks cohorts to run from July 2021 to March 2022.

Lancashire companies can register their interest via the contact us page on the Boost website or by calling 0800 488 0057. More information will be made available on the renewed programme over the coming weeks.

Photo: Alex Young, Stanley Villa Farm Fishing and Camping with his two children


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