SE100 Awards 2016: Growth Champion. Lets Do Business

SE100 Growth Champion: Let’s Do Business

Hastings in East Sussex is getting a bit of a reputation for being the go-to destination for Londoners escaping clogged trains and skyrocketing house prices, but Graham Marley, CEO of business support agency Let’s Do Business, says gentrification is more a trickle than a tsunami.

He cites Hastings’ regular appearances in government deprivation indices. The 2015 index rated the town the 13th most deprived in the country; it ranked eight in employment deprivation.

Let’s Do Business (LDB) is trying to change that. Firstly, there is job creation. LDB has helped create 4,500 businesses in the last five years, creating or sustaining 5,500 jobs in the process.

Marley knows that growing businesses has a social impact: “Having strong businesses leads to higher earnings, which means you can spend more money in shops and have better standards of living. But it’s also about aspirations for the next generation.”

This is echoed by Sonia Blizzard, who joined the board of LDB after having used its services setting up her own internet service provider business. “It gives role models to people locally, it gives aspiration to schoolchildren to see a strong business community,” she says. “Creating role models is very key. When you are in a deprived area, one of the problems is aspiration.”

LDB staff go into schools to advise on careers advice strategy and mentor young people with challenging behaviour. LDB has existed in different guises for 25 years and was originally set up as an enterprise agency. Its reach has now outgrown Hastings and covers East Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and Surrey.

Aside from a geographic spread, the winners of the growth award have grown in myriad other ways. There were six staff members when Marley took a job there after leaving the banking industry; there are now 27.

In the last five years it has arranged £20m of finance for businesses in the area and has seen the creation of more new businesses since it became a delivery partner for the government’s Start Up Loan scheme.

The majority of LDB’s income comes from delivering contracts for government – it runs two further programmes for East Sussex council. LDB also puts on exhibitions and provides loan finance, typically loaning to people unable to access bank finance.

With healthy funds and LDB’s legal form being a company limited by guarantee, is LDB really a social enterprise?

Marley describes it as not-for-profit. “If we make a surplus it’s for reinvestment in our business communities across the south east. We look to extend the services we can provide, particularly to those businesses about to start where there is not a lot of government support and advice.”

Marley took Pioneers Post to see a business LDB has advised that undoubtedly has social impact. Underneath the seafront promenade lies a building that had been unused since the 1990s. Back in 1876 it was a kind of spa and more recently, an ice rink.

It’s now The Source BMX and skate park and is awesome to behold. Two huge areas of bowls, jumps and ramps sit either side of a shop selling BMX and skate gear. It’s an incredible leisure facility for Hastings, but riders come from all over as there are very few covered skate parks to use when the weather is bad.

LDB has secured or loaned money to The Source founders Marc and Richard Moore several times since they opened their first shop in Bexhill along the coast in 2003, most recently arranging an £85,000 grant and a £28,000 interest-free loan towards the £300k fit-out costs of the park.

Marley says: “Something like The Source really makes you think, ‘Wow, we’ve played a part in that’. At some point we won’t need to lend them any more money because they’ll be able to raise whatever they need commercially. That’s job done for us. The end game is to get the business to the point of being self-sufficient so they can go and do it themselves. And then we can go and help someone else.”