Our 'Supporting councils with business engagement' report captured learning from councils' contact with businesses over the course of the pandemic and their plans going forward. One example was Maldon District Council, who brought together local businesses to identify where support was needed and establish networks.
About the area
Maldon District is a small rural coastal district in Essex with around 3500 businesses, of which a very high proportion is micro-sized.
Pre-pandemic the council’s relationship with businesses was limited and tended to focus on the provision of statutory services. The area also did not have any formal structures in place, such as Business Improvement Districts, due to the nature of the local business characteristics.
However, the small and localised nature of businesses within the district led to the natural creation of multiple small business groups – these groups represented a sub-sector or a particular area of interest. These groups were self-created and coordinated by businesses themselves and were used to identify common issues and requirements which were occasionally bought forward to the council.
During the pandemic
The pandemic had a very adverse impact in the district, with high streets and a large hospitality and tourism sector particularly affected. Acknowledging the importance of the high street, the council, as part of its Sense of Place initiative facilitated the creation of the Maldon Business Board – which acted as a “network of networks”.
This board helped bring together representatives from each of the local business groups to identify where support needed to be focused within the town and which areas were most resilient. It also proved vital in helping both the council and businesses understand COVID-19 restrictions; business support; and the grants programme but also for the council to share that information with business groups who may have been unaware.
The council undertook webinars and assigned volunteer high-street stewards to ensure that the dissemination of information and guidance during the pandemic was communicated well with all businesses within the area.
Looking ahead, the council would like to move towards a place-based and asset-based community development model enabling businesses to work together, with the council acting as a partner and stakeholder in economic prosperity and community cohesion. With Sense of Place, they are working to establish a second town focused business board in Burnham-on-Crouch and further sector-based networks as part of the Maldon District Business Network. The council appreciates that the pandemic has shown the importance of local businesses in their communities and would like to act as facilitators and enablers, rather than being ‘sovereign’.
An example of this is the 'Totally Locally Fiver Fest' which businesses coordinated and ran themselves in the high street. This proved to be a highly successful campaign to get people back to the high streets. However, the council understands that it has a key role to play in signposting businesses to the correct information but also to other business services. Thus, it intends to continue providing its monthly newsletter to businesses - which helps signpost them to external support services (i.e. BEST Growth Hub, SELEP); and inform them about local campaigns and initiatives.
Maldon District Council via its grassroots approach has been able to reach out to more businesses, especially the small independent high-street businesses and hopes to bring together more via the Sense of Place initiative, supported by the Magnox Socio-economic Scheme.