Six months since lockdown restrictions began, The Women’s Organisation has revealed the extent of the business and personal development support accessed by Liverpool City Region businesses and residents – including over 2,000 residents accessing online training and events, and a further 1,000 entrepreneurs receiving virtual business support.
Following the introduction of Coronavirus restrictions in March, The Women’s Organisation immediately redesigned its portfolio of services to operate fully on an online and telephone basis.
Since then, the social enterprise has been delivering a series of online webinars, training and innovative and responsive business networking and crisis management events, alongside a programme of over-the-phone and online 1-2-1 support and advice.
Its Liverpool and Manchester operations have helped existing small and medium-sized enterprises navigate the uncertainty and upheaval caused by national and local lockdown measures, whilst also providing support for entrepreneurs embarking on launching their own ventures.
This includes offering much-needed professional advice and support for sole traders and small businesses who have been affected by pandemic restrictions, along with the inevitable setbacks, and have faced an uphill battle to access financial and technological packages to help sustain their business .
The extensive support programme also targeted businesses who experienced a surge in demand for their services and needed to rapidly develop their technology capacity to help drive sales and deliver products and services to customers.
Since lockdown began, The Women’s Organisation has delivered more than 160 online training courses, events and webinars for both its personal development and enterprise support offering.
Around 2,000 women and men have attended online sessions organised by the social enterprise, while more than 1,050 virtual business advice appointments have been provided to help women across the Liverpool City Region start, sustain or grow their businesses.
It has also taken on more than 330 new clients – 70% of whom were to explore new business ideas, which shows that, despite the massive disruption to business and personal lives, there is still an appetite to become self-employed.
And, during the past six months, The Women’s Organisation has supported in excess of 4,000 women and men with their enquiries and connected them to relevant support networks across the region.
Among these is the Enterprise Hub programme, for which The Women’s Organisation is lead partner throughout the Liverpool City Region.
Enterprise Hub is receiving funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
The hub coordinates and simplifies the business start-up and growth support available into a ‘one front door’ access point through one-to-one advice with a dedicated business advisor, either by video link or over the phone, alongside a programme of business training.
The Women’s Organisation has also introduced brand new programmes and events to directly deal with issues arising from the pandemic.
A new service offers a special two-day ‘Managing in a Crisis: Be Resilient’ course from Enterprise Hub Skills which looks at what it means to be resilient, offering practical tips to strengthen personal resilience, business resilience, and other areas of life which might have been impacted by Covid-19.
Managing in a Crisis is a fully-funded service aimed at women who are running a business, or working in a business, and finding it difficult to manage under current circumstances.
Another service introduced in response to the pandemic is ‘Rapid Response’, a special series of free events and online webinars to help business owners improve their entrepreneurial skills, maintain momentum, and thrive throughout the pandemic.
Special sessions are led by industry experts who have, so far, covered topics such as accessing finance, promotion and marketing, innovation, and wellbeing.
What’s more, drawing on it’s on the ground experience of working with women, the self-employed and SMEs throughout the pandemic, The Women’s Organisation has also played a pivotal role in lobbying the Government on vital issues which have been impacting on individuals, local communities, and the business ecosystem.
Leaders from the organisation have led on lobbying efforts on issues including the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) which set women entrepreneurs at an unfair disadvantage for having taken maternity leave within the last assessment period.
The grant application process did not previously take into account any loss in profits due to taking time out from trading within the last assessment period when calculating the average profits, substantially bringing down the average, and therefore the grant available, for thousands.
Now, the scheme has been extended so that women are able to submit a claim based on older self-assessment returns for a fairer grant calculation.
Likewise, lobbying efforts from the organisation also saw the introduction of additional discretionary funding for the thousands of businesses, including those in shared spaces, which previously missed out on vital financial aid because of how they paid their business rates.
The Women’s Organisation reiterates that, despite the unprecedented upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic to individuals, businesses and the self-employed, it remains here for them and their businesses.
Jackie Williams, Enterprise Director of The Women’s Organisation, says: “We understand that this continues to be a time of crisis for individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses alike. As always, we want to assure our local community and business ecosystem that The Women’s Organisation is here to support you.
“We swiftly pivoted our services to ensure that the right digital and online support was in place to help people manage personally, and to support businesses not only to survive through these turbulent months, but to thrive and explore new opportunities. We have supported thousands of businesses to access millions of pounds of investment, critical to sustaining their businesses and providing a route to recovery. We have also seen that there is still an appetite for people wanting to start new enterprises and create valuable employment for themselves and this will be critical to help drive the economic recovery.
“The sheer scale of need and demand for support is unprecedented and has seen us deliver over 160 events in just six months and we are reassured that over 2,000 women and men have been able to benefit from these. Not to mention over a thousand more who have been supported through dedicated 1-2-1 support and advice. With more months of uncertainty ahead as we head into Autumn and Winter, I would urge anyone struggling or unsure about their next steps to get in touch and see how we can support you”.