Bethan McCoy

Author - Bethan McCoy

Overcoming the challenges

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Championing business success stories; extending Brexit support for companies; continuing to push for greater inclusivity and equality; staying connected in the COVID-19 landscape; and campaigning to ensure the Government’s levelling-up strategy comes to fruition.

I would like to begin this column by paying tribute to our Chamber County Durham chair Mike Wade, who sadly passed away recently. Mike spoke at our very last face-to-face Chamber meeting, the Durham annual review, where he followed a speech by Steve Cram, who he said was his all-time hero. Mike will be very much missed for his warm humour and tireless work on behalf of the North East business community and young people developing their careers. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues at Hodgson Sayers.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this issue of CONTACT magazine, which is full of great stories about Chamber members’ achievements over the past few months. Alongside these, we’re also enjoying the fantastic stories that have arrived in our Business Awards inbox. After last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19, everyone in the Chamber is delighted to be able to run these awards. With so many great entries, judging will be challenging, and we’re looking forward to supporting our regional winners in the national British Chambers of Commerce Awards. This year’s entries show the last year has been busy for many of our members, despite the challenges faced by some, including those exporting.

To help businesses tackle Brexit, our export documentation team has welcomed seven new members – doubling the team. Our international team supports companies with everything from how to import and export to Europe and beyond, rules of original legislation, customs declarations and building a global network.

Previous CONTACT editions reported on our Racial Ethnicity and Discrimination Commission. Chaired by Nagma Ebanks-Beni MBE, of Prima Cheese, it is charged with looking at how businesses can be more inclusive and is invoking tremendous interest from members.

Our Women’s Leadership Forum continues to go from strength-to-strength too under the leadership of Northumbrian Water’s Alix Bolton. It is developing two workstreams at present around business support and the gender pay gap to ensure female entrepreneurs and employees can access help on fair pay.

Over the past 15 months, since the first lockdown, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say how much I have missed face-to face events. The Chamber continues to do an amazing job enabling us to continue to come together through webinars, online networking events and breakout rooms that allow for one-to-one catch-ups. I really want to pay tribute to the Chamber team; they moved so quickly to deliver online events and have continued to maintain a high level of support for members and our region. It is testament to all the team’s hard work and commitment and to the range and quality of the online offering and support that we have continued to welcome new members during this time.

It’s fair to say working remotely has been very thought provoking, as well as sometimes challenging, and Arlen Pettitt, knowledge development manager at the Chamber, has worked on a report on the future of the workplace. Several of our members have contributed to this and it makes for an interesting read on a number of points that include flexible working – the theme of my presidency – and on issues that might not have been considered before, such as the impact working from home has on mental health and how young people in particular have been missing out on social interaction.

When I look back over the last 15 months, it’s so encouraging how businesses have supported each other, (even those who are in competition) and their local communities. When Boris Johnson came to power, levelling up the country was a priority. I recently met Kwasi Kwarteng, business, energy and industrial strategy minister, when he visited the region and shared with him my concern that the pandemic could have seen levelling up be sidelined. I was pleased to see this had not happened and that we’re seeing some promising progress and an encouraging start with the Teesside freeport and the Treasury’s move into our region.

Having said that, with a long way still to go, we will continue to campaign.

On a final note, the Chamber has a fantastic new website where everyone can keep up to date on our campaigns and see what members are doing. Please take time to look around it and upload your good news, so we can all enjoy the stories.

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