Peer support programme reinvigorates creative businesses in Craven

In October 2021, the York & North Yorkshire Growth Hub funded Innovate Educate Ltd (IELTD) to launch and run its first ‘The Artery Peer Support Programme’. Having identified a gap in the support landscape, the scheme specifically focused on a network of creatives and micro businesses working in and around the Craven District.

“We had previously carried out research into the importance of business skills for those working in the creative and cultural sectors,” says Karen Merrifield, Director of ie Ltd.”

“We found a lot of government support for start-up and growth businesses but very little tailored to the needs of freelance, micro and creative ones.”

“Often it’s thought that these businesses are not scalable, which is a misunderstanding. They are scalable but just in different ways because they collaborate well together, and they can also bring investment into areas.”

“Having heard through the Growth Hub-led Business Engagement Forum that they were looking to develop peer support opportunities, I connected in with the Growth Hub’s Manager, Andrew Raby. The Artery at the time was an idea that I’d been developing for some time so the funding allowed me to take it from an idea to reality.”

Karen teamed up with Leo Devine, former Head of BBC South West who led Project Spark which transformed local and regional news operations. Together they delivered six peer support workshops and three one-to-one mentoring sessions.

The programme blended themed activities focused on business strategy, the Story of Change model and action learning to help participants work to their strengths, share, collaborate and form strong partnerships.

For Skipton-based website and marketing business SBC Marketing, The Artery was a timely scheme, as owner Sarah Collett explains: “After Covid, home schooling with my daughter sat next to me doing her classes, and me trying to work, I got into a bad place and absolutely hated what I was doing. I was going to quit and just work in a shop or find a business to go and work in just give me a break. However, deep down, I knew I didn’t really want to do that so signed up to The Artery.

“The first session was great because we got to know everyone so well by sharing a story about ourselves through a single object. It became a bit of a therapy session and we realised that we’re all in a similar boat. We were a bit tired of what we were doing, and in need of new inspiration and teamwork.

“The group Zoom sessions were accompanied by three mentoring sessions with Karen which allowed me to dive deeper into what I needed from my business. This helped me to realign what services I was offering, so that I could focus more on web design, which is the area of the business that I feel most passionate about.

“The Artery was the main reason why I turned things around. I found a new focus, started enjoying it again, and obviously started making more money from it, which was great. The practical side of what Karen and Leo deliver as well as the camaraderie between the businesses has definitely been a big factor in that.”

Following The Artery, Sarah remains in regular contact with the group to gain support and also champion the successes of the other members. She is also getting support from Business Relationship Manager Alison Laws who joined the Growth Hub team earlier in the year to specifically support Craven-based businesses.

“When I first spoke to Alison, I was thinking about recruiting someone on a part time basis,” says Sarah.

“Alison researched schemes that I could use to get people on board, whether it was through apprenticeships or through grant schemes. Also, when I feel like I don’t have enough experience, she reminds me to put that to one side and to do it anyway. She’s just a great cheerleader, encouraging me to apply for stuff and throw my hat in the ring.”

Over the last year, the York & North Yorkshire Growth Hub has supported over 60 businesses in York and North Yorkshire through The Artery and Small Business Peer-to-peer scheme, as well as the national Peer Networks programme.

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