Skills and small businesses in the spotlight

In Boston, schemes to support independent businesses through the ongoing pandemic and an emphasis on skills development are helping to safeguard the town’s prosperity for the future. By Melanie Burton.
We may well still be able to ‘deck the halls with holly’ for Christmas this year but the 2020 festive period will be different from how we know it.

With many shops and businesses having restrictions placed on them during the last month, they have quickly geared up to cope, with services and systems put in place in the spring lockdown rolled out once more. They are ready to face the run-up to Christmas which is sure to be busy come what may. We will all miss the festive fayres, Christmas markets and lights switch-on ceremonies but the community are looking at other ways to build the festive spirit which normally heralds the advent of Christmas.

Just days after the lockdown was announced Boston Borough Council and Boston Town Area Committee took the difficult decision to cancel the town’s Christmas Market and Christmas Hamlet which were due to take place on 26th November as well as three Craft Markets scheduled for November and one scheduled for this 3rd December.

Immediate action was also taken to help the town’s small firms and self-employed workers through a new scheme aimed at supporting the borough’s independent businesses to navigate the various ongoing economic, employment, legal and mental health challenges.

Boston Borough Council teamed up with the Lincolnshire arm of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to offer heavily discounted membership – which included access to a huge range of vital business support services, discounts, events and advice, from business banking to 24/7 legal advice – to all small businesses and self-employed workers within the Boston Borough district.

It agreed to subsidise FSB membership, opting to pay the first £50 of the usual fee while FSB waived the usually mandatory £30 cost of joining, totalling a significant £80 discount. That meant sole traders could join from as little as £97, way down from a typical £177.

Katrina Pierce, FSB’s development manager for Lincolnshire said: “This is a difficult time for businesses in Boston; it’s been an incredibly tough year already and many local businesses would have been gearing up for the busy festive period.

“We want to do all we can to help practically support the town’s independent firms and sole traders to get through this and it’s so fantastic that Boston has opted to work with us and really power up their support.

“Together we can give local firms valuable, instant access to every business support.”

FSB has been supporting small businesses and the self-employed since 1974 and since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis has lobbied hard for fair support for the UK’s vital small business community.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak launched the Job Retention Scheme, Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and Small Business Grants following talks with the FSB in Westminster.

Locally, FSB Lincolnshire has offered front-line guidance, support and virtual events for the county’s SMEs and sole traders and is therefore best placed to help local businesses to recover and grow.

Council leader Paul Skinner said after leaving the first lockdown behind, many people in the Boston borough demonstrated a huge effort to follow the rules and minimise the spread of infection.

He said. “As a council we are very aware of the impact a lockdown can have on our communities including those who run businesses and it is very important people know help is available if they need it.”

In the period after the first national lockdown Boston Borough Council joined forces with East Lindsey District Council in a strategic alliance aimed at saving a total of £1.4m over 10 years.

In just over three months, that alliance has already identified £600,000 of ongoing savings in the current financial year.

Councillor Skinner continued: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on finances across the country. The continued savings we will make and the greater unified voice we will now share in future funding discussions are a huge positive and will help ensure that we are able to continue providing the services to our residents’ needs in the future.”

Plans that were being put into place previously are still progressing including the ambitious plans for a Town Deal with Government, which has now been presented to Government.

As part of the Town Deal, Boston was one of more than 100 towns across the UK asked to bid for up to £25 million each. A linked set of projects were put together joining the town’s heritage with learning and skills development, leisure and health opportunities and a focus on business enterprise.

Neil Kempster, chair of the Boston Town Deal Board, said: “In such difficult and challenging times, the Town Deal provides a fantastic opportunity to attract significant government funding to make a real difference to the local economy in Boston.

“It has provided the platform for working collaboratively to kick-start economic growth and realise the undeniable potential in the area. With a particular emphasis on the skills agenda and raising the aspirations of the people of Boston, the Town Deal aims to build on the unique and historic nature of the town to deliver a better future for everyone.”

Projects include utilising the town’s port to create a new centre for skills related to logistics and food, as well as bringing these industries up to date with digital skills in collaboration with the University of Lincoln and Boston College.

Outstanding learning opportunities in an innovative new Mayflower Centre and a hub for health and leisure complement the focus on the town centre’s rejuvenation through a programme of investment linked to the town’s historic marketplace, Blackfriars and Shodfriars. Funding is also being proposed for voluntary-led projects such as a community radio station and hubs that serve their local communities such as churches.

Boston College will receive funding towards the equipment needed to facilitate the new Digital, Transport and Logistics Academy (the DTLA). It will provide courses which focus on developing port and transport skills, highlighting the importance of digital technology solutions for the sector, such as transport and plant machinery maintenance, operations, forklift truck driving, stevedoring, leadership and management.

The College has identified the essential equipment required and this will accelerate the support for skills and employment not just for young people but also adult learners, many of whom may need to retrain as a consequence of the impact of Covid-19 on the employment market.

Principal and chief executive at Boston College, Claire Foster said: “I am excited to be leading an organisation that is fully committed to supporting the life chances of young people, enabling them to reach their full potential, particularly during and after such challenging times.

“The investment we are making in our college with the new buildings, such as the DTLA and our strong links with employers will support the recovery of the local economy following Covid.

“It is reassuring to know the Government sees the huge importance in investing in young people and jobs, to ensure they have the right skills and employment to protect all our futures.”

Plans to turn a golf course at Hubberts Bridge, Boston into a holiday resort are on course to become a reality despite the national lockdown.

The plans for the 152-acre estate were always intended to benefit the local economy and give businesses in the area a boost. However its importance now has increased and it will now play a big part in helping the area battle back from the coronavirus pandemic.

Businessmen Alistair Arundell and Paul Wilkinson are behind the plans to turn the former golf course into a leisure complex, entertainment zone, aqua park and sauna and spa.

The proposed works for Boston West Golf Club were determined by Boston Borough Council’s planning committee at a virtual meeting held on Tuesday 28th July 2020, where they gained support from the council’s planning committee. Planning permission was then granted in September.

The proposals from Boston West Golf Limited would see the part change of use of the golf course for the siting of 300 lodge-style caravans with associated facilities, along with a “hub” building to contain an ancillary reception, activity centre, spa, retail unit, food and beverage, facilities management and associated works. Part of the existing golf course and the driving range would be retained.

The Planning Committee approval was motioned by chairman, Councillor Tom Ashton, who said: “It’s an application that has been well presented and there are a lot of benefits for the borough.”

Deputy leader and portfolio holder for planning, Councillor Nigel Welton, said: “This is a great investment for the borough. Once the scheme is complete it is estimated to generate an expenditure of £4.4 million per annum and £2.3 million per annum in gross value added for the economy.

“Not forgetting supporting permanent employment, with both direct and in-direct jobs being created within the tourism sector and wider economy. It is a great sign of intent and confidence in the current climate, and reinforces that Boston is a great place to visit and invest in.”

Directors of Boston West, Mr Arundell and Mr Wilkinson, said: “We would like to thank Boston Council’s planning department for their amazing hard work and working with us to hopefully create a big boost to Boston’s economy. We would also like to thank the planning committee for their commitment to Boston and helping bring wonderful and exciting developments.”

The project is expected to take around four years until it is fully completed, but the pair are hoping to have the first stage open by March 2021.

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A well-known and frequently visited hotel in the centre of Boston has become the latest multi-award winning property in the town having been awarded the Good Hotel Award for 2020.

The Quayside Hotel and Bar on London Road was named winner following a record-breaking year of guests staying in the property throughout 2019.Owned, operated and managed by Smartmove Hotels, the property boasts attractive views overlooking the River Haven, a modern bar, lounge and eatery.

A statement issued by The Good Hotel Awards said: “Quayside Hotel & Bar has been awarded the highly coveted Good Hotel Award for 2020. Over the past 12 months, we have evaluated customer feedback and these premises have demonstrated exceptional levels of room quality, service and value when compared to our industry benchmarks in their category.”

Speaking on behalf of Smartmove Hotel Group, director Alistair Arundell said: “We are delighted to be named Winner of The Good Hotel Award, being the second in the county to have such a title. Accompanied by our accolade following winning Channel 4’s Four In A Bed, this is a great success for our flagship hotel.

“2020 has been very challenging for all within the hospitality industry, but this announcement was a welcome boost, showing that our hard work is recognised and welcomed.”

The Quayside Hotel building has long been associated with the fishing heritage of Boston port. As well as being linked to the fishermen, the port is one of the oldest in the world.

The bar was first opened in 1812 and today is a Grade II listed building.

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