Meet the Engagement Team at Business Durham

AS THE business support service of Durham County Council, Business Durham has a proven track record of helping companies to achieve their goals and navigate the challenges they face – whether it’s the aftermath of Brexit, the pandemic or working towards Net Zero carbon.

Part of Business Durham’s success lies with its experienced relationship managers.

As a first point of contact for companies across County Durham, they can offer solutions in a variety of ways, from accessing funding to finding new premises or supporting recruitment activities.

By maintaining relationships with local businesses in this way Business Durham supports companies by offering them key contacts and opening up networking opportunities. This can include access to Durham County Council services or skills through local colleges and universities; help to make the most of the latest innovations through key industry partners, and access to the Department for International Trade for support in reaching overseas markets.

Connecting businesses to these opportunities is made possible because of the networks and contacts Business Durham has in place, and the relationships maintained by its business Engagement Team.

Led by Team Manager Caroline Taukulis, each of the team members has developed their own specialisms to best understand and anticipate the needs of the businesses they support as well as the sectors they’re operating in.

“Much of our work relies on strong business relationships and being able to connect businesses with the right contacts, networks or services at the right time,” says Caroline.

“For me, our greatest success has been the work we did with colleagues in Durham County Council to award £5.2m to local companies through the Durham Business Recovery Grant during 2021 and 2022. So many businesses have told us how valuable the scheme was in helping them to make changes to prepare for a post-pandemic trading environment.

“We work with businesses to face the challenges they will experience and look to the opportunities that will present. For example, the significant adoption of digital technology, online trading and digital connectivity of people and processes will continue to grow. What’s more, the current conflict in Ukraine and increased energy prices and supply chain difficulties will also see businesses adopt low-carbon measures and greater on-shoring to secure supply chains.”

While the team covers all areas of advice and support for businesses, Hazel Sykes takes the lead on supporting businesses to achieve their low carbon ambitions and ultimately aim for Net Zero, which she adds is of growing importance for businesses as well as consumers.

“Our goal is to understand the needs of businesses and to help them articulate their needs, plans and challenges,” says Hazel. “We can then use our skills, experience and networks to help businesses overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities.

“Achieving low and Net Zero carbon within business is being driven by supply chain requirements. Many companies are now placing huge priority on the need to address their carbon footprint, rethinking how they do things as a result of changing technologies and resources.

“We want to help businesses to take action and to make real steps in carbon reduction. That’s why we held the Together Towards Net Zero Business showcase in July, bringing together expertise, finance and solutions to help businesses identify the opportunities Net Zero carbon presents.”

Andrea McGuigan, another member of the team, has worked in business support and B2B throughout her whole working life, doing so in County Durham since 2003.

“I work with some of the larger companies across the county, helping them to understand and deal with the opportunities and challenges they face,” says Andrea.

“We understand these challenges all too well – from Brexit and the pandemic to skills shortages.

“Working to engage with businesses at Business Durham, we are able to adapt the advice and support we give depending on the challenges and opportunities businesses face. An example of this is our work with the Department of International Trade to help companies export to new markets. Anyone can export – it’s all about relationships, networks, contacts and a partnership approach.

“I led on County Durham’s first trade mission to South Africa with Business Durham as part of this work. What I’m most proud of, however, is the Digital Drive programme. It’s a hugely successful £8m program which has engaged with over 16,000 businesses to help them make the best use of technology, which was found to be particularly useful following the pandemic.”

Part of Karen McParlin’s role in the team is to focus on helping to plug the gaps within businesses, connecting them with universities, colleges and other education and training providers.

“I act as a conduit for information on skills,” Karen says. “I help companies to articulate their requirements and act as a link to appropriate providers who can help. We also showcase the industries and employment opportunities out there to current students, teachers and parents.

“I’m on the advisory boards for the Institute of Technology, a collection of further and higher education providers offering higher level courses. It works to help shape general provision of skills to businesses as well as developing tailored and bespoke skills training for companies.

“The skills agenda is recognized as a vitally important area that can make a difference to employers, businesses, training providers and the current and future workforce

“Companies want to make a difference but don’t have time to do it. My job is helping to make it easy for companies to get involved and reducing the time they have to commit.”

To find out more about how Business Durham is helping businesses to grow and thrive, visit www.businessdurham.co.uk

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