President's Heartbeat - 27th February 2020

Yeovil Chamber Celebrates 100 Years

On Thursday 27th February 2020 Yeovil Chamber celebrated our first 100 years at a sold-out Centenary AGM, at the Yeovil home of Chamber member business Leonardo Helicopters.  Over 100 people booked their seats at this very special event, with guest speaker Ben McGrail of ITV West Country News, a signing ceremony for the Armed Forces Covenant, and a guided tour of Leonardo’s very impressive assembly and flight hangars.  For those who were there, and for those wanting to know what Chamber delivers for our members, here’s a transcript (edited) of my keynote speech, delivered on the day by Vice President Jo Reynolds, which detailed where we’ve been, where we are now, our current activities, and a flavour of what is in the pipeline.  I am extremely proud of what the Yeovil Chamber team delivers on such a small budget, and our latest activities are detailed in the middle section of the speech:

The financial headline is that we made a profit.  Turnover increased by 27% over the twelve months up to December 2019, to a record £15,645, and we made a profit of £1,358.  The increase in turnover was due to an increase in membership from ninety to 105, our expanding sponsorship and patronage package, and a continuing drive to deliver our events on at least a break-even basis.  We also invested over £5,000 in a new website, scheduled for launch during Q2 2020, and we ended the year with £3,597 in the bank.  If current activity is maintained throughout 2020, I’ll stick my neck out and predict an income figure in the region of £20,000 by the end of 2020.

Whatever the size and sector of your business, you are welcome at Yeovil Chamber, and to be part of the big voice for our business community. Yeovil Chamber is now widely regarded as the representative body for the business sector across our corner of South Somerset, representing your interests, driving change and economic prosperity. 

We are living in an age of change – globally, nationally, regionally and locally.  We are in the middle of what future generations will look back on as the second industrial revolution.  Technology, automation, the internet and artificial intelligence are creating new and better ways of doing business and making things.  But we must not fear change.  Yeovil Chamber embraces change as part of the natural cycle of progress, and we encourage our members to also embrace and be part of, that change which helps to create and release the potential for Yeovil, and your business interests.

The late, great Paddy Ashdown once called me an “unbridled optimist.”  That may be true, but I always have one eye on the tasks which need attention, and I’m never afraid of being challenged.  I’m passionate about Yeovil, but my views of the town are never my own personal views.  Sure; I have an opinion, but whenever you hear me talk about Yeovil, my words simply reflect the sum parts of the views I collect through listening to what local business people tell me.

Most people talk the town up.  Despite huge challenges faced by the retail sector; and the recent news about Beales; for every shop we’ve lost in Yeovil since 2015, just under two have arrived.  I meet regularly with James and Aimee the managers of the Quedam, and incidentally, the recent news about Beales swamped the news that two new operators have opened in the Quedam, and I heard yesterday there is a third on the way; a Diving Academy – hardly retail, BUT that is the way the town centre is evolving, creating an experience; independent niche operators, all of whom embrace the internet and social media as part of their proposition, offering something you cannot buy on the internet.

Despite the down-at-heel appearance of small pockets of the town centre, Yeovil continues to create and realise potential, and there is more, much more to come.  As I mentioned, for every shop lost since 2015 we’ve gained nearly two.  £25m were recently invested on road upgrades and infrastructure projects.  The SSDC town centre redevelopment programme is underway.  Private investment in town centre residential property is underway to meet the demand.  Yeovil continues to develop as a hub for aerospace, hi-tech and innovation, and SSDC and County Council have recognised this with financial support.  The SSDC innovation centre has doubled in size, and construction of the iAero aerospace hub, funded by the Somerset County Council, the LEP and Leonardo, that purple thing you can see as you drive past the end of the airfield, is well underway.

Jo Reynolds, Richard Howes and Ben Malik of our Executive team continue to develop our networking events.  Our Breakfast Circle expanded during 2019 from bi-monthly to monthly, and the twenty seats at each of these popular breakfast events are usually sold out.  Our quarterly Business Leaders Breakfasts, devised in response to the constant member demand for bigger picture insight features key figures and personalities from Yeovil and beyond, briefing our members on their role and how it influences the business sector.

We also network with other Chambers:  The annual Breakfast with the Neighbours regularly attracts nearly 100 attendees, and connects Yeovil with Dorchester and Sherborne Chamber members.  We are affiliate members of Somerset Chamber, and our representation at board level, plugs Yeovil into the regional scene, and gives us a route to the British Chamber of Commerce.

One area of our work I’m especially proud of is that with the education sector. Our work with the secondary academies, and in particular, Veeda Crichton and Mark Bolton at Yeovil College, is bringing education and industry together, to influence, and align the curriculum with local and regional employment requirements.  Giving our young people good reasons to want to make Yeovil their home.  To create the potential for careers and employment for our most precious resource; who will ultimately become our leaders and create the future.

Our relationship with South Somerset District Council continues to develop.  I meet regularly with CEO Alex Parmley, and since November 2019, Chamber has the presence of an Economic Development Officer, Joe Walsh on our Executive Team.  I also chair the Refresh Stakeholder Group at SSDC, and these positions create a two-way conduit for insight and cooperation between the private and public sectors.

Our most recent initiative; M-Hub, launched in November 2019, following a request from Neil Discombe MD Garador, and has quickly developed with the assistance of SSDC, Leonardo and Porter Dodson Solicitors into a growing network of manufacturers from in and around Yeovil, sharing best practice, ideas, challenges and creating supply chain opportunities.

I sit on the multi-agency Night-Time Economy Steering Group, and the group estimate that we are close to being ready to make a successful application for the UK-Wide Purple Flag accreditation for night time economy.  Whether we get the accreditation or not, the group is chaired by Chief Inspector Sharon Baker and focused long-term on developing the night-time economy offerings in Yeovil, and connects Chamber with senior officers at Avon & Somerset Police, Devon & Somerset Fire Service, the Ambulance Services, licencing authorities, Pubwatch, Crime & Safety team and Yeovil Hospital.

We are also in the early stages of discussions with RNAS Yeovilton aimed at re-engaging the airbase and the town.  These discussions are part of a broader aim which includes the airbase, the Fleet Air Arm Museum, South Somerset District Council and  Leonardo Helicopters to culturally promote the unique and rich aerospace and aviation heritage around the Yeovil area, encouraging tourism and employment.

During 2019 we presented to Leonardo employees on the benefits of internal staff networking within large organisations, and working on repeating the presentation as well as replicating and offering this to other large employers with similar challenges.

We are also embarking on a project to create mini-business communities on the five trading estates located around the edge of the town.  Again, with the aim of bringing people in the business community together.

We are busy planning a Business Awards Lunch on 26th June, to be held at Yeovil Town Football Club.  Full details to be announced, and thank you to all those of you in the room who have sponsored the event so far.  Entries open next week.

Creating and maintaining all these activities, and representing your interests ultimately boils down to our resources, the people we work with, and the amount of time I and the Executive Team are voluntarily able to offer, but I do hope that what I have said has given you a flavour of what we have been up to at Yeovil Chamber, where we are headed and how we go about supporting our members, and Yeovil as a town.

I’d like to thank our admin manager Gina Farnborough and the Executive Team, for their passion for all things Yeovil, giving freely of their time to help drive Yeovil Chamber forward.  Everybody who sits around the Executive table leaves their business interests by the door, understanding that if the town flourishes, so does their business.  Additionally, each member of the team carries special responsibility for a Chamber activity, usually with their specialist skillset.  And we are definitely not a talk shop; if an Executive team member flags up an issue, they are aware that they must usually see it through.  Please can the Executive members in attendance stand up so we can see them.

I’d like to thank Leonardo Helicopters for coordinating everything today, and for the venue.  I’d also like to thank our patrons: Yeovil College and Albert Goodman, for their ongoing support.  If you’re interested in sponsoring or becoming a patron of Yeovil Chamber, to help raise the profile of your business and make a difference to what Chamber can offer, please ask these businesses why they became Patrons.

It never ceases to amaze me how much Chamber actually achieves on such a small budget.  In the allotted time today I could only give a flavour of what we are up to and what is in the pipeline.  If you want to know more about Chamber, to take part, or to join as a new member, please speak to me or any of the members of the Executive team.

For me, it is always about people.  People do business with people.  To me, it matters not the size of your organisation, it is about whether you engage openly with others around you.  Yourselves, and those in strategic roles around Yeovil are working together like never before, and that can only go one way.  Yeovil Chamber simply joins the dots. . .and this is proving to be key to success in Yeovil – if people engage, and talk with an open agenda, stuff happens.  Thank you.”

Released on 12/03/2020