Julie Underwood’s latest for The Journal
Julie Underwood, director of international trade, North East England Chamber of Commerce
There is a sense that the mood has changed. The energy of people being together again, pubs and restaurants open alfresco, with diners basking in the spring sunshine, there is definitely as sense of positivity and hope which we all need after the difficult start to the year, then we just needed to get through it.
We are seeing businesses move back into their office locations, helping to re-energise our towns and cities, with a renewed sense of hope and community. That isn’t to say that there is still more to do.
The Chamber is dedicated to helping businesses not only with regional and national connections, but internationally too. Our opportunities to travel are still very much curtailed, yet businesses have adapted remarkably well to everything we can put in front of them virtually. Who would have thought that a business could still be present at one of the world’s largest exhibitions of the food and drink sector in UAE, we helped over 50 businesses prepare and attend , supported by a full training programme to help them utilise digital technology to meet buyers and pitch on line. Following this success, the format will be replicated for the Indian market and there are further virtual visits planned for the US, Australia, and Ireland.
Through the pandemic we have kept in contact with our friends in Ireland, knowing the importance of this neighbouring market. Between our respective Chambers we have supported our members through the resulting changes of Brexit, and at the same time resolving to make our relationships even stronger so we can help businesses continue to trade together, irrespective of the legislative complexities and challenges.
Understandably, we have seen a dramatic decline in exports in the first quarter of the year, due to factors outside of businesses control, but with grit and determination our exporters are doing everything they can to maintain and develop their international sales and relationships built over many years. We are with them all the way. But we are waiting for that similar change in mood, for example the excitement of boarding a plane, to meet potential customers.
Indeed, Spring has launched us into a sense of hope, we now need to build on this to see our international plans flourish when we can travel again and fully appreciate the wonderful places and people we have so missed.