How can we support Winchester’s rural businesses better?

We’re always hearing about the difficulty of doing business in rural areas. The more you can do that, the more you support the economies in those areas – like local pubs and shops. What ideas can we come up to help support them?

In Winchester district, there’s a 50/50 split between the city centre and more rural businesses. If you have a 50/50 split, the awareness of what support there is will be lopsided, and biased towards the town businesses. One important job must be to make people more aware of what support is available to them. People hear all these organisations and acronyms, how do they figure out who is who, and who can help? Without the physical adjacency, that’s much harder.

Also, how do you connect businesses in rural areas to the city businesses? Connecting the local supply chain is an interesting challenge here. There was a session on eating our own lunch earlier.

The real rural challenges

What do we need in rural areas that makes it easier to run businesses there?

Are there particular problems in rural areas? Rural areas have real problems with broadband. You can video edit anywhere – but on 3Mbs broadband, it will take forever to upload. Some business people understand that they need a broadband point they can go to – pub, library – rather than having it to the home.

These community hubs can be useful in all sorts of way. Group working sessions in the village hall or pub can make a real difference in connecting isolated home workers. They can have a coffee and chat – as well as work. They become ad hoc business hubs. It’s a real breathe of fresh air to bounce ideas off people.

The forecast for broadband rollout is pretty good in 97% of the country. But if you’re in the 3% it’s pretty terrible. If you’re ther, do you move? Can you move? If your get the facilities right, you can attract more businesses there. There are other broadband options – radio and satellite, for example. But it’s expensive and would have to be focused on these business hubs. You create vibrancy by bringing people together, and bring life and economy to those locations.

The right rural space for the right rural business

Suitable premises is another issue. We’re losing the dirty spaces for engineers and other more physical industries – where are the space to build and develop the prototypes? Those uses will never go into a smaller city. Rural areas have a key role to play in that process.

Editing and design tasks are very portable, which has led to a growing breed of home-based freelancers. Where do rural workers entertain clients? Village pubs are one solution, as are hotels.

However, we are social animals. And when you’re starting off a business, you feed off other people are independent. Finding a group that works together can be really important to drive businesses forwards. Networking isn’t about getting orders, it’s about building a network. And that brings quick solutions to problems. Also, trust and credibility take a while to develop. And that required repeated meetings.

So, maybe we need a rural business network. Move from village hall to village hall – it’s a great social situation. Maybe what you’re really doing is connecting up those local business hubs you’ve created. And maybe the larger businesses can send someone to drop in, and start making connections with that local supply chain. And it’s making those local pubs or cafes more viable by bringing them more customers.