Business cluster supports members through lockdown and gets set for the ‘new normal’
Since 2004, Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster (BECBC) has operated as a private sector led member organisation of over 300 businesses, located on Cumbria’s world-renowned Energy Coast. Its membership is incredibly diverse, providing a home for some of the energy industry’s largest anchor organisations such as Sellafield Ltd, alongside its global supply chain, home-grown SMEs, education providers and charities. As the country finds itself in an unprecedented period of lockdown, the cluster’s role, like national and regional economies has needed to evolve and adjust to respond to the crisis and support its members.
The immediate effects of lockdown on BECBC’s members has covered the full spectrum: from almost business as usual for companies in critical supply chains through to those left with no other option than to temporarily shut up shop.
BECBC Chair, Ivan Baldwin, described the Cluster’s reaction as agile, listening to its members to shape its offer of support and pooling its internal and external resources and networks to ensure that BECBC remains a steadfast hub for business and community during this period: ‘BECBC is a community, one where organisations come together to seek mutual benefit through collaboration. Pre- COVID-19 this included monthly meetings that averaged 150 people in attendance. In these circumstances we have completely transitioned into a digital platform- something we achieved almost overnight. No matter where our members sit on the spectrum of lockdown impact, all have continued their active participation, either through finding innovative ways to continue to trade or by providing free of charge professional and personal support. For me, this supports the recognised value of business clustering even in such challenging times.’
Leaving no-one behind in the region’s recovery
Perhaps one of the instruments in BECBC’s toolbox that has afforded it the flexibility to respond to the nation and region-wide challenges that covid-19 has raised, is its openness to disruption. With inclusivity as one of its watchwords in recent years, the cluster has opened the door to a diversity of thought and experience that has allowed it to respond to the diversity of voices and needs of the business community it supports. In 2018, BECBC established one of the energy industry’s first Shadow Board of 18-30 -year-old leaders to integrate the voice of the next generation in its activities and has created formal collaborations with partner organisations across the UK, Spain and Japan to facilitate a sharing of industrial and business best practice.
It is therefore clear to see why, as the cluster operates in lockdown and plans for the ‘new normal’, its mission is ‘to leave no one behind’. The pandemic is hurting the most vulnerable - both those vulnerable in health and those who are the most socio-economically challenged, and in recognition of the fact that business has greater success when operating in prosperous communities, it is unthinkable for anyone to be left behind in the regions plans for recovery.
Supporting businesses through covid-19 is what communities need
They say that cash is King, and right now for those businesses haemorrhaging money, this old adage rings absolutely true. However, it’s equally true that relationships are Queen. The bullet train pace at which Governments and societies have had to react is unprecedented in modern times, leaving BECBC’s members faced with the competing demands of ‘protecting the NHS’ and preserving their businesses and incomes. For many this is truly devastating: from one day making ambitious plans for business growth, to the next waking up and being faced with the immediate challenge of whether they can keep the lights on and pay the rent. It’s also important not to forget that business owners and leaders also have all of the other weights and strains brought by the virus, such as health vulnerabilities, home schooling, distancing from their loved ones and social isolation.
BECBC’s lockdown programme of events focuses on today’s issues of cash flow, work flow, health, safety and wellbeing whilst also finding ways to maintain the community ethos through care & share and social activities. BECBC took the decision to maintain its ‘old normal’ investment, agreeing that now was not the time to reduce its support mechanisms. It also recognises that emerging from lockdown will not include an immediate opening of the doors and a return to business as usual; it will be tentative and incremental.
Some sectors will continue to be hard hit into the medium term, as of course will the people whose careers and skills are dedicated to it. If we are not careful this will create a canyon between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ - one which could take decades to recover from. As part of BECBC’s commitment to leave no one behind, it has created a new model for a new normal: one which puts the local business community far more in control of its own destiny as opposed to waiting for central government to solve its problems for it. In the new normal self-determination will be incredibly important for Cumbria’s Energy Coast.
How do we prepare for the ‘new normal’?
As BECBC prepares, along with the rest of the nation, for the easing of lockdown, it has committed to achieving the following for its members and community:
- Maximise intra-regional trading (make spending matter)
- Maximise opportunities for the young
- Increase online trading and engagement
- Re-energise charities
- Demonstrate loyalty to the workforce
Although ’a new paradigm’ is an overused line in modern times, few could argue that this is exactly what this pandemic has created. However, like any moment of historic upheaval, this new normal will also present new markets and opportunities, especially for those communities who are able to recover and mobilise most quickly.
The Energy Coast is known for world firsts in industry: from its rich heritage in mining, steel-making, nuclear power and most recently its approach to the challenges faced by nuclear decommissioning and environmental restoration. However, its visions for the future must also provide inspiration and opportunity for younger generations and a potentially displaced workforce. It is a place that can make a massive contribution to the UK’s Net Zero challenge, not just in electricity but in other forms of clean energy such as heat, hydrogen and synthetic fuels. With a current safety net of a 100 years in the form of multi-billion pounds of nuclear decommissioning contracts at Sellafield, demonstrating value for money through innovation and leveraging this rich asset base for new missions such as those above is vital.
A robust local economy, industry base and supply chain will be key to securing this exciting clean energy future: a future that will depend on providing an attractive proposition to both Government and Private Sector investors alike. Programmes which secure mass employment will be a very important lever in global economic recovery.
Whilst protectionist in agenda, it will require global participation due to the nature of technology and investment, alongside a keen eye focused on the demands of regional economies and communities.
‘Emerging from lockdown in collaboration, leaving no one behind, working cross cluster and with key partners in local government, means that we have a north star to aim for. This is very much rooted in our cherished local communities whilst creating an open door for new partners. ‘