Council Business Support programme gives Number 19 the Resilience to navigate Covid uncertainty
07 December 2020
Like many other city centre traders, the shutters are down this week in Number 19 Craft and Design's Craft Village premises, however, thanks to the guidance they received through Derry City and Strabane District Council's Business Resilience programme, their tills continue to ring.
The Resilience Programme was commissioned in March of this year to help local businesses continue to develop and grow during the uncertainties and challenges of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The programme was delivered by Full Circle Management solutions and included a series of workshops and mentoring opportunities to equip businesses with the skills and resolve to adapt.
It also linked companies with one of Council's dedicated Business advisers to assess the current positioning of their business as a result of the pandemic.
"We are a unique collective of artists and designers from the North West who sell contemporary crafts and artisan gift ware from our shop and now online," explained Maureen McGhee, Number 19 Craft and Design.
"We are a non-profit making co-operative which started as a pop up shop eight years ago and are now based in the Craft Village, we have 22 members and we share expenses, skills and services.
"We wouldn't normally have a budget for consultancy but we decided to get involved in the Business Resilience programme as it was free and it has turned out to be the most useful thing we've done and has had a huge ripple effect on our business.
"The first lock down back in March was a very uncertain time, we didn't know how long it would last and there were still bills to pay and 22 Crafters to keep happy.
"We had a Facebook and Instagram page but we didn't have any E Commerce setup so there was nowhere to direct people.
"The one to one mentorship with Full Circle allowed us to develop a two year plan and setup as an online shop in a very short period of time, it has meant that the further restrictions through 2020 have not been as daunting for us and we have been able to continue to trade through our new website.
"It can be more difficult for cooperatives to adapt to change but we presented the plan to the group and they have now embraced it and are working together towards one vision.
"Each person in our group brings their own individual skill set and we are fortunate that Jen O'Donnell has the acumen to develop and regularly update the site we developed.
"The fact that we have been able to continue to offer a click and collect service during the current restrictions has been a significant help and it means there is still a personal aspect to the service when people collect their orders at the door."
Number 19 was mentored by Programme Manager at Full Circle, David McComb, and he was impressed by the group's adaptability this year.
"Participants completed four workshops online before three days of one to one mentoring," he explained. "In the case of Number 19 it was one to many mentoring as they have 22 different crafters but I was impressed with how they worked together and their willingness and enthusiasm to embrace change.
"A lot of Number 19's customers would have been visitors to Derry and Strabane but through the website they can now reach out to tourists and the Irish diaspora who haven't been able to visit due to the Covid restrictions.
"Shopify is relatively easy to set up provided you have someone in your organisation who is willing to update the website regularly.
"It offers great data to retailers about what's performing well and they can use those numbers to make informed decisions about buying and marketing.
Council have undertaken an extensive shop local marketing campaign this Christmas including the launch of a dedicated website shoplocalderrystrabane.com to sign post shoppers towards the best artisan and locally made gift providers.
The multimedia site includes competitions and video messages from business owners telling people details of their offering and reminding them of the importance of shopping local – a message Maureen believes is now in the public's consciousness this Christmas.
"Our customer profile changed a lot this year," she added. "We realised quickly that Covid was going to be long term and that in the short term, due to the travel restrictions, local people were going to be our customers.
"Many people had more disposable income as they weren't going on holidays and they were spending more time at home so were buying things for their houses.
"The messaging around this year's Shop and Gift Local campaign has really hit home and the public have put a higher value on supporting locally owned businesses and buying locally produced gifts."
You can view Number 19's web page for yourself at number19craftanddesign.com where you can learn more about their various makers and access the click and collect service.
The Business Boost business support programme was provided by Derry City and Strabane District Council in partnership with Invest NI and Full Circle NI.
It is part-funded by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment Growth and Jobs NI 2014-2020 programme.
While the Business Boost Programme has now closed, a new Business Innovation and Growth (BIG) programme is available providing bespoke mentoring support to help small to medium businesses located within the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.
Businesses interested in taking part and availing of some support are urged to visit www.derrystrabane.com/businesssupport or to contact the Council's business team directly.