Flood-hit Cumbrian businesses receive £1m support

Michael Hunt

The North West Development Agency provided over £1m of funding to 216 businesses in Cumbria during the six months since the devastating floods.

The NWDA said that its flood recovery grant scheme was established within a few days of the floods in November last year and made available to small and medium businesses within six days.

To date, the NWDA said 216 applications totalling over £1,083,000 have been received and of this £413,500 has so far been paid out to 120 businesses.

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the NWDA, said: "We are aware that six months on there are businesses still dealing with the terrible consequences of the floods but I am pleased that we have been able to support so many. Cumbria has come a long way in six months and it is excellent to hear stories of businesses getting up and running and tourists returning.

"It is thanks to the hard work of so many people that we have been able to help all eligible businesses which applied for grants. Businesses and the people of Cumbria have shown great resilience and strength of character through very difficult times."

Delivery of the scheme was supported from Business Link Northwest advisors who dealt with over 1,900 calls. Business Link and West Cumbria Development Agency advisors also visited over 400 businesses to help them recover from both the direct and indirect impacts of the flooding.

The grant applications are administered by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce from its Carlisle office while Cumbria County Council helps to co-ordinate the scheme.

A few days after the flood recovery grant scheme was launched, the NWDA invested £128,000 in temporary business units for SMEs at Mitchells Auction Company in Cockermouth. Some 14 units were fitted out at the warehouse in Lorton Street and occupied by businesses including a pet shop, health food shop, Age Concern, two hairdressers and wool shop.

NWDA said that a sum of £50,000 was granted to the Cumbria community fund and, in December last year, a major drive was initiated to minimise the impact to the tourism industry, which NWDA added contributes more than £1.1bn to the county's economy.

The NWDA granted Cumbria Tourism, the official tourist board for Lake District, £100,000 to support a national marketing campaign.

The NWDA also said it helped Cumbria Tourism launch an immediate programme of marketing to push winter breaks in Cumbria and to highlight that the county was open for visitors as usual.

The NWDA added that figures for overall business performance in Cumbria show that tourism has recovered to normal levels for the time of year. March and April occupancy figures were better than for 2009 in the serviced accommodation sector and visitor attractions were at similar levels. NWDA said that although most businesses have had a difficult six months between September 2009 and March 2010 they are recording strong bookings for later in 2010.

NWDA also said farmers affected by the flooding were able to apply for funding from the rural development programme for England to get their land back into use.

Following agreement with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the NWDA, and Cumbria County Council, grants were available from Cumbria's two local action groups, the Solway, Border and Eden local action group, as well as the Fells and Dales local action group.

Farmers could apply for grants of up to £6,800 to hire equipment or specialist contractors to move debris from their land such as fridges and vehicles, repair structures damaged by flooding and remove gravel to the edge of fields.

NWDA said grant offers have been made to 80 farmers for just over £366,000 and £55,000 has been claimed so far.

In April, the NWDA helped James Walker, a large employer in Cockermouth, to stay in the town. James Walker guaranteed to invest in new equipment to develop the business after the NWDA supported the provision of flood defences.

The November floods meant that the factory in Gote Brow implemented business continuity plans and outsourced manufacturing to other James Walker factories.

Peter Needham, chairman of the James Walker Group, said: "We supply critical components to customers in key industries such as oil and gas, power generation and defence. These customers trust James Walker to provide continuity of supply but without some form of flood resistance we could not offer the necessary guarantees. As a result, a significant part of our business on the Cockermouth site remained under threat. We have therefore been working with the NWDA, Invest in Cumbria and the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce to find ways of protecting our site."

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