A new business in Birkenhead has secured grant funding to develop chartered boat trips in the River Mersey, River Dee and Liverpool Bay.
Discovery Charters is being launched on Saturday 7 August which aims to support a range of local tourism businesses including accommodation providers, restaurants and pubs, by helping to encourage short breaks as well as day trips in Wirral.
The value of the grant could not be disclosed but will be used to modify and equip Discovery Charters' boat, which totals 40% of the business costs, for scuba-diving, wildlife watching, photography, educational and ceremonial trips. The boat will also be totally accessible for all users.
The Mersey Rural Leader programme, which is financed by the North West Development Agency and aims at improving the rural economy in Merseyside, will meet with the firm next week to finalise the support grant.
Gary Flint, who set up Discovery Charters with his wife Lynne, said: "Tomorrow will be our first trip. We've got a group of six from Essex booked in, followed by a group of six from Scotland and eight people from Manchester coming on the boat tomorrow. I've not got the grant just yet but we've passed all the relevant criteria for it and it will help buy a dive bench fitted on the back of the boat amongst other equipment needed.
"I can't wait to launch the business now and with the help of Jonathan Jackson and Paula Malley at the Mersey Rural Leader programme I've been able to get everything organised really quickly. We have been given great support by Wirral Council, Paul Davies at WirralBiz, and Rachel Price at Business Link. Our enquiries for charters have been from all over the country.
"I spotted a massive hole in the market for diving and wildlife trips, particularly as there are so many places of interest around Wirral's wonderful coast. We've managed to take some photographs of dolphins in Liverpool Bay, as they swam alongside the boat, and have got really close to the sea lions on the sand banks around Hilbre Island.
"There are over forty wrecks to explore off the coast as well which is an exciting prospect for keen divers like me. Our overriding objective is to develop a business that is both profitable and sustainable, whilst providing a new, safe and enjoyable experience."
Cllr David Elderton, Wirral Council's cabinet member for culture, tourism and leisure, added: "The Mersey Rural Leader programme is designed to support rural businesses throughout Merseyside and Wirral Council is actively encouraging our rural businesses like Discovery Charters to find out more about the programme so that they can benefit from the type of support that Lynne and Gary have received."
Rachel Price, an adviser with Business Link Northwest, said: "Gary told me about his new business idea and I worked closely with him to decide how he could get the business off the ground. I identified Discovery Charters as a potential candidate for funding though the Rural Development Programme for England.
"I was then able to put Gary in touch with a consultant who helped him put together a detailed business plan and cash flow forecast and I was delighted when his application for funding was accepted. Discovery Charters has the potential to attract more people to Wirral and I will continue to support Gary as he grows the business."