Rural Enterprise East (REE) was set up in November 2018 to help entrepreneurs in East Anglia develop their business ideas.
Based at the Otley campus of Easton and Otley College, the new facility also aims to help connect the college with the business and community, help reduce rural isolation and create partnerships that bring people together. The hub offers business mentoring services, office space, meeting room facilities, hosts events, teaches short courses and gives individuals one to one support.
Director of operations – Digby Chacksfield – has worked in the social enterprise sector for over 15 years and has three decades of business experience. He explains how the first six months of trading has gone.
“You won’t get an angry looking panel of snarling Dragons (like you do on Dragon’s Den) or a ranting pointing figure that puts you on the naughty step like you do on The Apprentice. You will get a warm welcome and ongoing support and advice. We want to help people in rural areas achieve their business dreams.”
So far, REE has been working with three local start-up companies.
A furniture restoration company called Salad Days Interior was the first client to base themselves at the centre that is based eight miles north of Ipswich.
Owner of Salad Days Interior, Sherry Storer, said, “REE has been supportive. They offer me a business base. Being in this environment helps you build up contacts. It’s a great facility for the region.”
A new venture called Spirit of Suffolk – who offer wildlife photography tours in the county – are also receiving support.
Philip Charles is the owner of this company. He said, “I came up with the idea for the business in the summer of 2018 and launched in January this year. REE has been super helpful. They arranged a free meeting with an accountant, gave me advice about business cards, marketing and my website (www.spiritofsuffolk.com). Anything that crops up, REE has an angle that I haven’t thought about. There are lots of facilities and it’s very welcoming and professional. Digby is supportive and he genuinely cares and wants to help.”
REE is also currently overseeing the development of a new falconry business.
The centre has also vowed to support students at the college. Thanks to a successful funding boost from the Studley Farm Trust, 15 college students will get the chance to participate in a ten week introductory business course
Since opening six months ago, over 1000 people have been through the doors according to Mr Chacksfield.
He continued, “We are more than just a business hub. We have a keen sense of our social responsibility and in line with a 2016 event called the ‘Flourish Summit’, we want to shine a light on a wide range of rural issues. Therefore, we recently, hosted an event aimed at supporting people who have mental health issues in the agricultural sector. And future plans include a partnership with ‘Battlefield 2 Business’ that will have sessions for former members of the armed forces. Discussions are also in an advanced stage with Greener Growth that will use gardening to support health and wellbeing issues with those who have learning disabilities.”
When the REE red ribbon was cut by Lady Euston in front of around 100 guests in 2018, she said, “What we have always needed is a centre of excellence that can nurture, encourage, train and mentor those who have exciting ideas for creating and growing a business. Rural Enterprise East is that place and we can be proud that it is a home grown UK first.”
Mr Chacksfield was delighted to receive this endorsement and is delighted with progress so far. “It’s incredibly exciting that REE is becoming a centre where people can come to us and we can help them thrive and make their business ideas fly. But more than that, it’s also equally satisfying that we are beginning to become a place of support and comfort for lots of different community groups who are living in rural areas.”