Shropshire Chamber of Commerce outlined some of its ‘exciting plans’ to support the business community in 2021 at its annual general meeting.

The meeting, held over Zoom this year, included the re-election of president Mandy Thorn, vice president Chris Greenough, and chief executive Richard Sheehan to the board of directors.

Members heard how the Chamber had dipped into its reserves to provide free membership for businesses during the worst of the Covid lockdown this year, as well as cash to ensure that staff remained in the office to help businesses when they needed it most.

Mr Sheehan said: “Going forward, it’s very clear that we still have a number of bumps in the road – many of which we can’t influence, but we can help to provide support.

“Nobody could have possibly envisaged the impact of Covid-19 on employment, and on young people across our county. Those people are our future workforce, business owners and managers.

“Right now they are in a really challenging place. The Government has introduced a Kickstart programme, which we have been instrumental in helping to shape, and things are starting to move.

“We are here to support our young people, and use our connectivity with the business community, to ensure they do get an opportunity to upskill over six months, becoming familiar with the workplace, and hopefully find work with the companies they are placed with.”

Well over 500 opportunities have already been offered by Shropshire businesses under the Kickstart scheme, and Mr Sheehan said: “The business community have really stepped up.”

He also revealed plans for the Chamber to resurrect and modernise its ‘People Portal’ video CV service in the coming months to help job seekers overcome current barriers to physical interviews.

And he said the team was working creatively to develop new events, membership offers and training programmes to support business needs, which were evolving ‘at a pace no-one could have imagined’.

“Providing support on the skills agenda to ensure people can capitalise on opportunities that come forward is something we are committed to,” he added.

Mr Sheehan also outlined plans to launch a new ‘Chamber TV’ service in 2021, which he said would provide companies with updated information on business support and funding opportunities through its partners.

“We are playing a vital role in supporting our businesses, we are playing a role in supporting the community, and we’ve identified areas that we need to be active in, to ensure the best possible support.”

“There are many other exciting things coming, and I’m blessed to have a team of people working with us that are really committed to making that happen, and a board that are supportive.”

In her annual report, Chamber president Mandy Thorn said: “Covid has been an absolute game-changer, and whilst for so many of us the business impact on staff, customers, turnover and margin has been significant it has also brought the best out of so many businesses.

“We have seen businesses who have enabled their teams to volunteer in their local communities and who have gone out of their way to support their staff and their customers through changing the way they work and deliver their goods and services.

“Most excitingly we have seen Shropshire businesses pivot and deliver whole new products and services to support the economy and our communities in different ways – for example through the manufacturing of PPE and through developing innovative digital offers.

“We have seen changes in our local economy driven through necessity that will have a long-term impact on all of us; some bad, but many positive.”

She added: “I am so proud of the Chamber, and how it reacted so quickly to the emerging challenges that our business community were facing.

“The swift move to online engagement and training, the virtual networking and the decision, driven by our chief executive and his team, to open the Chamber resources to all Shropshire businesses to help them through the pandemic.

“The Chamber team have played an integral part in informing Government of the impact of the pandemic on the business community and have actively lobbied for support for our business community.”