Monday, 08 August 2022

Let’s work together or we will lose our independents

Henley file picture

THE two new directors of the Henley Business Partnership want to do all they can to support the town’s independent businesses.

Emma Vanstone-Booth, 50, and Andy Steer, 56, say the business community should work together to share expertise and residents should be encouraged to use them.

Mrs Vanstone-Booth, who lives in Lovell Close, said: “At the moment, Henley needs support. We have a lot of chains coming in and it’s time to really help our independent retailers.

“I want to help them raise their profile. We are all going through a cost of living crisis, they have businesses they need to support as well as their own homes.

“I want to encourage people to spend their money locally because otherwise we might lose them. I’ve spent my career working in business-to-business marketing and my background has always been about looking at the bigger picture. That’s what we need to focus on.”

Mrs Vanstone-Booth is a director of Henley estate agent Philip Booth Esq, which is named after her husband. She was inspired to become a director by the late Carolyn Molyneux, who ran Delegate Office and Conference Services.

For years she supported the Henley business community with initiatives including the shop window competition. She passed away in May.

She said: “At Carolyn’s funeral I heard about all that she did for Henley and that made me feel that now was the right time to give something back.”

Andy Steer, who lives in Brocks Way, Shiplake, runs IT services company Vividly Simple, and is willing to coach new businesses by giving them the benefit of his experience.

He said: “I have been a member of the business partnership for four or five years and it is my favourite networking group because it is all about community engagement with a positive benefit.

“But there are businesses who don’t know of others that exist and if they did there would be a lot of benefits to come from that, such as cross-promotion which I believe I can help with.

“For me, the other side of it is to give people and their businesses the benefit of my knowledge and experience in running a business for those who are perhaps at the start of their business journey.”

Niki Schäfer, who chairs the partnership, says the networking group returned to its monthly in-person meetings in January and is keen to build up its membership again following the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

She said: “Prior to covid, we would be having 70 to 80 businesses in the building. Then we just did what everyone else did, which was to go online as a way of trying to keep everyone together and support business.

“We opened up as soon as possible with meetings in January and we found that the effects of the pandemic were very mixed. To be in hospitality and events, anything with high regulation, was difficult while others pivoted and did different things. It was tough for some and for others it presented opportunities.

“At meetings we don’t go in and say ‘how successful is your business?’, we want to support the town and its businesses. We help them to collaborate with one another as a business community. Business success is what we are all striving for because we want the town to be successful.”

Meetings are held on the third Friday of the month from 8am to 9.30am, usually at Henley Rugby Club, and include a buffet breakfast. There is almost always a guest speaker and recent subjects have included how to make your business more environmentally friendly.

Mrs Schäfer, who is an interior designer, said: “Over the years the green agenda has definitely been growing. We have members from Greener Henley and we have speakers who have talked about how they have worked towards carbon neutrality.”

She said the high street in Henley was doing well but she would prefer a greater variety of shops.

Mrs Schäfer said: “The periods around this year’s Henley Festival and royal regatta were unbelievable but the town always needs the support of the residents and the offices.

“I think with more people working from home nowadays they can get more of an insight for what it’s like for independent businesses. Where before they would be going to London to work and Henley was just a lovely place to come home to, I think there is a shift in understanding now as they realise that there are amazing shops and services here.”

The next meetings are as follows: August 19, a speed networking event at a venue to be confirmed; September 16, with speaker Charles McClelland, “Maximise the value of your business and achieve a successful exit”, and October 21, speaker to be confirmed, both at the rugby club.

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