A popular Tyneside brewery is set to open an on-site shop, recruit more staff and expand its product range, as it emerges from the pandemic with the assistance of a recovery grant from Open North Foundation (ONF).

Great North Eastern Brewery has gained a grant of £1,500 and two places on the Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) run by ONF partner, Newcastle Business School, part of Northumbria University.

A private sector-led, not-for profit company, established in summer 2020, ONF assists small firms in the North East looking to recover from the pandemic, through grants that are donated by companies and individuals in the region, plus in-kind support such as marketing, HR and finance. Directors, ambassadors and supporters of provide their time pro bono.

Based in Dunston for five years – very close to what was the famous Federation Breweries site – Great North Eastern Brewery has a growing range of real and craft ales that are sold direct to public houses and major national outlets such as Green King. Its range includes Rivet Catcher, inter-city Porter, Big Rivet, Delta IPA, Hop Tropica and Stargazer. The beers are available in kegs, casks, bottles and cans.

The brewery, which has been awarded the prestigious Salsa Beer Plus accreditation, which acknowledges high quality brewing, currently employs five people and hopes to take on another seven in the very near future.

Business was booming just prior to the pandemic, with a £400,000 turnover and sales of 11,000 pints a week. It then lost 80% of its trade almost overnight, as the first lockdown took hold.

Managing director, Paul Minnikin, said: “We had to pivot the business model and we are currently largely an online operation. While we expect that to remain a big part of our business going forward, a return to more traditional distribution once we are finally out of lockdown, will see output really grow.

“As a sign of confidence, a bottling line has been installed, new beers introduced, including a gluten-free option, a shop has been added to the brewery site and there are plans to recruit new staff, once those currently on furlough come back.

“To lose 80% of trade overnight was a devastating blow. It was very scary and although we knew we had a good business, everything was out of our control for a period of time. We then settled into the new world we were living and working in and slowly but surely developed a plan to get us moving again. That including looking at any available grants and help that was available.

“We were alerted to Open North Foundation and the fantastic work that it was doing on behalf of the business community and applied for funding. The £1,500 will be used to purchase additional equipment for the new canning line. We have also taken up the option to take two places on the course made available through Open North Foundation by Northumbria University. This will be invaluable to us as it will provide us with the additional management skills that we must have in place to satisfy our ambitious business plans.”

Northumbria’s Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) is a free 10-week strategic development programme for senior leaders in SMEs employing between 5-249 employees. The programme, which is funded by The Dept for Business Energy Industrial Strategy, covers a range of practical topics and is hosted online by SME experts, including entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from the university’s Newcastle Business School.

Richard Swart, chair of Open North Foundation said: “Great North Eastern Brewery has tremendous potential and the fact that it will soon be in a position to offer good quality jobs to local people, is wonderful to see. Like so many small to medium sized businesses, it was badly hit by the pandemic. However, in assessing its application for a grant and coaching support, the Directors of Open North Foundation were very impressed with the company’s performance immediately prior to the pandemic and the investment that it had made in new product lines.

“The assistance we have provided will, hopefully, assist the company to move forward with its plans quicker than it might have expected and we look forward to hearing great things about Great North Eastern Company in the years ahead.”