Heart of the City: surviving and thriving

Heart of the City | 14 September 2020 | News
Heart of the City: surviving and thriving

Our Chair, Sir Harvey McGrath, writes about our summer series of Survive and Thrive – support for small businesses in the pandemic:

“When lockdown struck Heart of the City was immediately aware of the major impact this would have on our members. The charity, which I Chair and whose Co-Presidents are the Governor of the Bank of England and the Lord Mayor, works with more than 100 small-to mid-sized companies all operating in central London. The charity is funded and supported by the City of London Corporation as part of its work championing and sustaining SMEs.

Suddenly our SME members were unable to get into their offices and many had to adjust to working from home for the first time. The types of business that Heart of the City works with are hugely varied and we knew that each of these companies would be going through their own list of worries, and feeling very alone.

While the world was still reeling and adjusting the Heart of the City team was already asking ‘What can we do to help?’.  We know that small businesses are the engine for growth and employment, but also for innovation. We wanted to help ensure that the businesses we work with, which have made a commitment to ‘doing well by doing good,’ survived the very real threat that the pandemic posed to their operating models.

The Heart of the City’s team and their ambassador network from large UK companies was quick to respond. Perhaps inspired by the entrepreneurs they work with, Heart of the City’s team is constantly looking for ways to improve and to remain relevant. Covid-19 was no exception. Within weeks the staff team had set up an entirely new stream of support for their members.

Survive and Thrive

Drawing on our powerful group of ambassador companies, Heart of the City was able to find experts in some of the UK’s major business to advise our SME members on how to manage through the initial stage of this crisis. They devised a plan to bring together our members with these experts so they could ask questions about their own company’s circumstances, and so they could share experiences with one another.

Over ten weeks we ran nine workshops where lawyers Weil, Gotshal and Manges gave legal insights into working from home, PwC shared their risk-planning for returning to the office, Nando’s gave a fascinating practical insight into re-designing their restaurants to be Covid-secure, and double-act of employment law and HR advice from Katie Boots and Jenna Hunter ran two sessions answering practical questions about the evolving furlough scheme.

‘Our Head of HR is very impressed by the quality of the programme and how its geared at SMEs compared to other programmes…. Heart of the City has been most on point and most useful out of everything out there.’ Heart of the City SME member.

‘Thanks again to all of you at Heart of the City, you are being great.  I’ve found the sessions really useful and they’ve also given me so practical solutions to help manage during this totally weird time.’ Heart of the City SME member.

Over ten weeks Heart of the City saw 140 attendees at our Survive and Thrive events from 59 different companies. This was in addition to running all our usual programme on responsible business, of course online. Our materials have spread further than our members too. Our Covid-19 web area has been visited almost 500 times and our materials viewed almost 1,000 times.

Our partners have valued our work too:

‘I’ve recently returned from furlough leave and one of the highlights in my inbox was your briefing note!  I summarised it for those of our team who are still on furlough and added my own experience and anecdotes before hitting send at the weekend.’ A London Chamber of Commerce employee.

Of course, Heart of the City is already thinking about what it can do next to support its members, and other SMEs. We have made lots of Covid-19 specific material free for any business to use and we are developing the next stage of our support. Survive and Thrive will run until October and members can look forward to a strong focus on how we will build back better.

On behalf of the Heart of the City trustees and the team I’d like to thank all the ambassadors who have generously given their time to support SMEs in this challenging time:

  • David Bennett, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • David Carroll, Royal London
  • Emma Stewart MBE, Timewise Foundation
  • Jenn Barnett, Grant Thornton
  • Jenna Hunter, Hunter Law
  • Katie Boots
  • Matthew Bonye, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Matthew White, Nando’s
  • Nick Turner, Stratforma
  • Rachel Thompson, Marsh Commercial
  • Victoria Page, VP Comms

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