The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the North East has become a supporter the Open North Foundation, the business-led, not-for-profit, which provides grant aid and in-kind support to firms in the region looking to recover from the pandemic.

The FSB, which has seen, at first hand, the severe disruption that Covid-19 has caused to many of its members, has paid tribute to the region’s business community which, since the launch of the Foundation 12 months ago, has generously provided support to assist small firms.

The FSB has become a supporter at a time when a new wave of uncertainty is about to hit small businesses.

Reshma Begum, development manager – North East England, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We represent 3,000 small businesses in the region, 90% of whom employ less than ten staff. They have shown exceptional resilience and fortitude over the last 18 months, as they have faced one challenge after another. Some, such as those in the digital sector, have experienced growth, while those in hospitality have suffered badly. It is these firms we are particularly concerned about.

“The bounce back loans taken out by more than a million companies are starting to fall due, adding to the cashflow pressures many of them face and at the same time the furlough scheme, which has helped secure jobs for over a year, is also winding down.

“It will be our aim to directly inform our members of the support available from Open North Foundation and we will also ensure that our partners and stakeholders within the public sector also spread the message within their networks.

Established in July 2020, Open North Foundation comprises of a board of directors, ambassadors and supporters, all of whom provide their services free of charge, with all money raised being distributed as grant aid to support SMEs in the North East.

Thanks to the generosity of individuals and a vast, diverse range of companies and organisations, Open North Foundation also offers in-kind support, such as marketing and accountancy to small and medium sized businesses in the region who, but for the pandemic, would be financially viable and offering high quality jobs.

Richard Swart, chair, Open North Foundation, said: “The FSB has done a superb job during the pandemic supporting and encouraging its members in a wide range of ways. It is very often small businesses that are the hardest hit when the economy is impacted negatively and during the last 12 months Open North Foundation has been in a position to provide a mix of grant aid and in-kind support to assist them to recover, move forward and, hopefully, look to provide good quality jobs. The FSB has direct contact with a vast range of firms in our region and through its support of the Foundation, it will encourage members to put forward applications for grant aid that will be considered by a panel of directors.”