Forward-thinking rural businesses are showing their innovative expertise and exploring new markets, a new in-depth survey has revealed.
The data was collected by the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub, the Warwickshire Rural Hub – a business support organisation which is led by farm and rural businesses across Warwickshire and Solihull – and Warwickshire County Council which targeted around 1,300 businesses.
It showed 69 per cent are undertaking innovation in their business and 58 per cent are exploring new markets.
The results were included in the latest CWLEP Growth Hub SmartRegion report from June 9-22 which also gatheredinformation from the CWLEP’s business engagements and survey data, Warwickshire County Council, Coventry City Council, the FSB and the NFU.
The survey outcome also showed that the top three areas of requested support were for financial support and advice, easy to access information and access to insurance advice. These were closely followed by links into local businesses, support with succession planning and help with mental health and wellbeing.
The top three areas for how Covid-19 has impacted rural businesses were loss of income, a complete halt to trading and closure of usual trading premises. Other areas of concern were reduced access to customers abroad and in the UK and less productivity.
A third of the Growth Hub’s business engagements since March have been with businesses based in rural postcodes with most working in manufacturing, ranging from food and drink to traditional craft including carpentry and weaving.
Other rural businesses that have been supported were operating in retail and wholesale industries as well as the strong tourism and leisure business base.
Craig Humphrey, managing director of the CWLEP Growth Hub, said despite challenges, rural businesses had shown adaptability and resilience throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The results of the survey have shone a positive light on the rural sector as respondents to the rural survey and businesses that were supported by the Growth Hub have shown they have remained resilient and adaptable even during the lockdown period ,” he said.
“Rural businesses mitigated the impact of Covid-19 by closing their premises, working from home where possible and halting non urgent payments or cancelling direct debits.
“While retail businesses have started to open, the rural accommodation and food industry is more hesitant to open upand has been awaiting further guidance. Recent changes to the rules that will enable some of those businesses to open up again on July 4 will be welcomed across our region’s rural business base.
“Businesses are faced with a lack of clarity around regulations but also with the uncertainty around the visitor economy and consumer confidence in general.
“Rural businesses have been most affected by decreased sales and bookings and cash flow issues. With a large amount of accommodation, and food and leisure businesses, the restrictions on business travel and events cancellations have also had a severe impact.”
Craig said rural businesses had expressed concern about other potential problems in the future.
He said: “Businesses have stated that there are still other factors that pose threats to their business, including the EU-exit and environmental factors such as the winter floods experienced across the county that are having an ongoing impact on businesses.
“On the other hand, there is a general sense that businesses in the rural sector have been very adaptable and innovative.
“This included food businesses and cafes refocusing to offer takeaway and delivery services or supporting community projects. Likewise, the rural manufacturing industry has stepped up to support with the manufacture of PPE when it was most needed.”