The Regional Growth Fund is a £2.6 billion fund operating across England from 2011 to 2016. It supports projects and programmes that are using private sector investment to create economic growth and sustainable employment.
The first three rounds allocated £2.4 billion which will leverage more than £13 billion of private sector investment with the intention of creating or safeguarding over 500,000 jobs.
SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to Sarah Cannon, recipient of a £30,000 Regional Growth Fund loan for her indoor family entertainment business, which was provided via Kent County Council’s Expansion East Kent programme.
What’s your background and when did you come up with the idea for the business?
I have a background in psychiatric nursing, after which I ran a quirky café on Ramsgate harbour called ‘Ship Shape’.
I originally thought of the idea for my current business three or four years ago, spotting a gap in the market for a big play centre in the area. We opened in February this year.
How did you discover the Regional Growth Fund?
Someone we knew had put in an application for the first stage and I decided to have a go. I had a look on the website to see what it’s about and put the preliminary application in.
We had a budget shortfall in the area of disabled equipment, which is what the money was earmarked for.
What was the application process like?
The initial application looked at the suitability of company, whether it was a viable business to lend to. Once they’d looked at that as a board they came back to us with lots of questions and it then went to a second panel. We had to provide business plans, a breakdown of costs, and how many jobs the money would create.
It wasn’t too complicated as a process; we applied in about March and had the money by January.
What did you spend the money on?
The money has been used to invest in specialist equipment to provide facilities for disabled children in our centre, where previously no provision existed. It is also helping us to create 18 new jobs.
I had to provide receipts once we purchased the equipment to prove the money was spent in the right way.
Have you received any other financial assistance?
We got a grant from Kent council in January for £10,000, which we spent on an interactive room for disabled children to be able to access the centre.
That was through my local councillor, who had helped us with our initial planning application and supported us every step of the way.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking for grants?
Talk to local councillors and the good ones will bend over backwards to help you.
Originally, we wanted to use a derelict building and the council were adamant it needed to be retained for factory or industrial use. Our councillor was brilliant in fighting our corner and spoke up for us in planning. Build up relationships as these are useful people to know.
For more information on the Regional Growth Fund click here.
Further reading on business grants for small businesses