Are grants enough? 

When, during the Covid pandemic, the government released funding (known as Additional Restrictions Grants – or ARG for short) for local authorities to distribute to businesses who had suffered losses, the idea was that a quick cash injection would help support them in a time of need. A nice thought, and one that surely must have helped many through difficult circumstances.

However, it’s often said that simply throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve it. In this case there are a few issues: the money available might not cover all the losses a business has faced, and it certainly won’t help to prepare owners for running a business in a post-pandemic world or an accelerated shift away from high street shopping.

But there is a way this funding could be put to excellent use. With a bit of ingenuity and creativity it could give businesses a cash boost AND the skills and thinking that will see them flourish for years to come – as well as lifting up the entire local business community.

As high street experts, at DigiKind we did just this, working with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM), and saw incredible results. But how?                                                                            

Innovation at The Royal Borough

DigiKind was already working with RBWM to reinvigorate the high street. Through research and experience, we knew that for success we needed businesses to embrace digital practices and to support one another, creating a digital community.

Therefore, it made sense that the RBWM Business Innovation Grant Scheme should follow the same strategy. There were specific criteria that businesses were required to meet from a council and government funding perspective in order to receive the grants (as all grants do). We worked with the council to align our training programme to our strategy of future-proofing the high street and building a resilient, sustainable community. 

So, alongside the businesses meeting the required criteria to receive their funding, we aimed for five key outcomes that aligned to our transformation programme of rejuvenate the high street:

1. Focus on local and local businesses 

2. Raise the level of expertise in latest marketing and digital practices through training

3. Encourage high street businesses to be more innovative, creative, and sustainable

4. Benefit the whole of the high street through collaborative strategies

5. Every business should have robust business and marketing plans in place

DigiKind collaborated with the council to ensure success in our priorities, and we built our programme around the four pillars of our high street strategy: localise, digitalise, differentiate and collaborate.

DigiKind supported the businesses with training, one-to-one support, and developed a business hub for the council with online resources and templates designed to help business owners plan ahead, think differently, and innovate.

“I attended all 5 lunch and learn sessions and have to say that they were excellent and packed with useful info and advice. I will certainly utilise the tools I have acquired over the course of this week to help me drive my company further into marketplaces I hadn’t embraced fully in the past. Kathy was a great leader, always clear and concise with her teachings and I can really relate to her focus on organisation and statistics when it comes to planning and decision making. The session on website building and SEO was also invaluable and has demonstrated that a website needs to continually evolve if it is to be an effective form of communication with your customers!”

To apply for funding, businesses were also required to submit their business plans and digital strategies, which in itself ensured that businesses reviewed their own strategies and plans, often reworking them to take into account learnings from the training. DigiKind provided one-to-one support and assisted businesses to develop these plans, and businesses were given support to create suitable plans. Again this meant that as well as receiving funding, the businesses also had the best chance of success.

“I already applied Social Media into my plan and launched click and collect so it was practical as well as thought-provoking for me.”

Success story

There is a well-worn adage that says:  

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

and this rather sums up the thinking behind how DigiKind and RBWM used the Additional Restrictions funding.

53 businesses received £800,000 in grant funding in the Royal Borough. Successful businesses received £15K and put this to good use updating systems, rebranding, and making themselves more relevant to today’s consumers. Thanks to the criteria for funding, this means 53 businesses in RBWM also have robust business plans and strategies in place.

DigiKind ran 8 week-long training courses, attended by all 53 funding applicants, and although the requirement for funding was 50% attendance, attendee average was nearly 100%, with excellent feedback and requests for further training. The training courses were supplemented by 19 Breakfast Briefings where inspiring business owners share expert advice.

And through the development of digital strategies and collaboration, 53 businesses have been empowered to work together to create a self-sustaining digital ecosystem, which will see the businesses of RBWM continue to support each other and thrive long into the future.

With creativity and ingenuity, DigiKind turned what could have been just a cash hand-out into a scheme which shaped a healthy, thriving business community, uniting business owners, customers, visitors and community leaders in support of their high streets.

What did the grantees say?