Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron heard about more than 20 local businesses, the services they offer and how they are managing and adapting during the coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Farron was a guest of the Kendal Chapter of BNI (Business Network International), a professional networking organisation, where members meet weekly for breakfast and help each other to find new business by making referrals.
The Kendal Chapter has 22 members, representing a range of businesses. They include an architect, bathrooms designer and installer, builder, electrical contractor and planning consultant.
In the past 12 months the Kendal Chapter has generated £849,418 worth of invoiced business through referrals between its members and its aim is to reach £1 million in a single year.
Members usually meet face-to-face at weekly meetings at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal but during the current situation the meetings are being held online.
At this week’s meeting, Mr Farron took part in a question and answer session. He said the blow facing the local economy at the moment was worse than the floods of 2015 and the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 and it was vital to find ways of keeping businesses going.
He said the tourism and hospitality sector was the largest employer in Cumbria but lockdown had come at the worst possible time, just after the relative ‘famine’ of the winter months. Even if the lockdown was eased in the autumn the tourism and hospitality would, in effect, have to go through ‘three winters in a row’. It was therefore important for the Government to look at providing a 12-month package of help to such businesses.
He said he did not think the virus would have affected the ‘Lake District brand’ as a destination, although it would still be important to promote the area post lockdown to help the local economy.
But he added: “Because people have been stuck in their own homes, when the gates of the Lake District are reopened, we shall be overrun with people wanting to get away and get some fresh air.”
After the meeting Mr Farron said: “It was hugely encouraging in the light of the current crisis to get alongside a group of local business people who are determined to make their own luck and to help lead the recovery of the local economy.
“It also gave me a better insight into the issues they face so hopefully I can help.”
The Kendal chapter is keen to attract visitors so they can find out more about its activities. BNI meetings are free to attend while they are being held online. Anyone interested should contact Alasdair Ross on [email protected] or 078866 250690.
There are also BNI groups at Carlisle and Barrow and starter groups at Ulverston and Windermere.