A fast-growing cohort of North East businesses, lead organisations and personalities, aim to raise hundreds of thousands to support companies looking to recover from Covid-19.

The newly launched, not-for-profit company, Open North Foundation, is calling upon businesses and individuals throughout the region to pledge financial support as part of a private sector-led initiative to rebuild the regional economy. Businesses receiving financial support will be considered to deliver long term positive economic impact and create high quality jobs. In most cases, grants will range from £1,000 to £5,000 but this will be reviewed in due course, subject to funding.

While the immediate aim is to provide financial support, there is also a longer term goal to provide financial assistance, technical support, business advice and consultancy to enterprises and individuals adversely affected by the pandemic.

Founder and chair of Open North Foundation, is Richard Swart, global sales director, Berger Group Europe and vice chair is Colin Hewitt, partner, Ward Hadaway Solicitors. Directors are Teesside entrepreneur, Claire Preston, area business manager for Barclays, David Foreman, director of Wessington Cryogenics, Gill Courtney, director, Stephenson-Mohl Group, Mark Stephenson and MHA Tait Walker, director, Paul Shields.

Richard Swart, said: “At the peak of the pandemic, it was truly inspiring to witness how the business community reacted instantly to the call for help coming from the Government for the supply of ventilators and PPE. My company, Berger Group Europe, would almost certainly have joined that effort but our machinery and working practices did not lend themselves to the production of emergency equipment.

“Both the company and I did want to make a real contribution to the pandemic and so the concept of providing financial and other support to aid the region’s recovery has resulted in the launch of Open North Foundation, following extensive consultation with business leaders in the region.

“The urgent priority now is to raise sufficient levels of funding before grants can be handed out. We have significant pledges already.

“I can’t recall anything like this being established before from within the private sector and any initial nervousness I had about it as a concept, has been overtaken by the overwhelming number of business people eager to support the initiative and its aims and objectives. Clearly, there is a great deal of grant aid and other support available from the Government but as we know, that will slowly start to be withdrawn and so there is a real opportunity and need for the business sector to come together and provide financial assistance to help the recovery of smaller, less resourceful businesses who, if they survive, will have a positive impact on the regional economy and create good jobs.

“This is the worst economic crisis in 300 years and in such an environment we cannot afford to be precious about the level of funding on offer. It all helps.

“All involved in the Open North Foundation are working pro bono. The board, our ambassadors and supporters are now calling for the business community to rally around Open North Foundation and demonstrate that, once again, the North East is way ahead of the field in looking after its own. This is a great example of North East business supporting each other. The region’s business community and individuals have demonstrated time and time again that they readily support the communities in which they live and operate via their commitment to worthy causes. The vision for Open North Foundation is steeped within that spirit of generosity and caring and we know that we will gain the support needed to give many businesses the opportunity to recover and flourish.

“I am delighted to have attracted top quality directors and experienced business people from a range of fields, underlining our commitment to strong corporate governance and oversight and I hope to add others in due course.

Foundation director, Claire Preston, Tees Valley businesswoman of the year 2018, said: “The North East has a remarkable business community. One which is supportive and cohesive, populated by defiant, ambitious and determined people wanting the best for each other and the region.

“There are amazing examples of entrepreneurial spirit and success and the makings of a new, exciting chapter here, driven by energy and passion which will not be dampened by Covid-19. However, in reality, businesses across all sectors have been hit hard, with some more able to adapt or survive than others.

“We now need the people of the North East to rally and offer support and encouragement to our entrepreneurs, our employers of the future, to recognise and value their vital contribution to the local economy and provide an essential lifeline so that they are able to weather this storm.

“I’m honoured to join others on the board of Open North Foundation in this mission to bridge the gap for businesses struggling as a result of Covid-19 and ensuring that success stories prevail for as many as possible.”

James Kyle, investment director, Rathbones Investment Management, an ambassador for the foundation, said: “Rathbones is delighted to support this welcomed initiative to provide financial assistance to businesses in the North East suffering from the impact of Covid-19. As one of the country’s leading investment managers and a FTSE250 company with over 250 years of history, responsibility is at the core of our values and we recognise the need to provide support to the local economy and community to assist those businesses most impacted by the current crisis.”