Ian Girling, Chief Executive reflects on Chamber achievements throughout 2018

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As we approach the end of 2018, I’d like to reflect on the achievements of the Chamber over the last 12 months as well as look forward to 2019.

Membership sales have been strong, with membership currently at 712 and retention at 78%. New member benefits introduced this year include the Training Academy and free use of the Chamber board room and we have stepped up our use of social media in promoting our members.

This year has been another great year for the Business Partner programme, with the programme at capacity with 2 Premier and 28 Platinum Business Partners. Business Partner retention is extremely high, being 100% in October 2018 and we welcomed new Business Partners and Chamber IT providers ITSB as well as global cyber-software leaders ESET during the year as well. We’d like to thank our Business Partners for their ongoing support and look forward to working with you next year.

I’d like to welcome Sarah Milton as my new PA and congratulate my former PA, Vicki Hailes to her new role as Events Manager. Dorset Chamber events continue to perform well, with most events fully booked. This year also saw the introduction of a successful new event, Member 2 Member Live, which will be repeated in February. Events continue to perform well and are highly regarded by the business community. Next year will see the launch of a completely new networking event.

This year also saw Dorset Chamber actively support two major conferences. Firstly, China: Embracing Innovation conference, where we provided event management support for Bournemouth Borough Council, and secondly, we delivered the business engagement for the successful Careers and Apprenticeship Show, attended by 80 businesses and around 2,200 young people, Dorset’s largest ever careers fair, in partnership with the Careers and Enterprise Company and Southern Universities Network.

2018 also saw the introduction of the Members Training Academy, a free platform for members to promote their workshops and training and we will further develop this in 2019. Next year will see us continue to build on the value of membership with new events planned to help both support the growth of smaller businesses.

2018 saw the largest ever Dorset Business Awards at the BIC. The event was a huge success, delivered on budget and attended by around 700 guests. The Dorset Business Awards continues to be the premier business event across the whole of the South coast. I’d like to record our thanks to our excellent AV supplier and Premier Business Partner Brighter Productions as well as BH Live at the BIC and Global Brand Communications.

Our profile in the media continues to be very strong with the Chamber frequently called upon to comment on key issues affecting businesses and I would like to thank our PR agency Business Partners Deep South Media for their first-class support.

Despite the uncertainty of Brexit and a weakened economy, 2018 has been a successful year for our International Trade department, with the delivery of several training programmes alongside the documentation service we offer. We’ve also developed an international trade review, whereby we seek to develop bespoke services to help our members efficiently export. Through the British Chambers of Commerce, we have also been providing advice and guidance to the business community on issues around Brexit and will obviously continue to do so as we approach March 2019. We will also heavily promote the export agenda next year and build the capacity of Dorset businesses to export.

Our Young Chamber programme continues to deliver an incredibly valuable service in helping link business and education to help prepare young people for their future lives. We currently have 13 schools participating on the programme and another 12 schools keen to engage but seeking sponsorship. We work closely with partners such as the Careers and Enterprise Company and Young Enterprise and our work has been recognised in Parliament. I’d like to thank all our sponsors for their support and Joan Senior for all her hard work and making Young Chamber such a success.

A strong website is essential in any business and we continue to develop the Dorset Chamber site with a focus on functionality, design and content. Developments this year include the training academy and improved functionality on event bookings. We’d like to record our thanks to our digital Business Partner Digital Storm for their fantastic creative and technical support in creating our website.

The Chamber also created Business Insight videos, featuring members. It is our intention to develop this service over the next year to further enhance the profile of our members and create a video catalogue of videos covering interesting and topical content.

Earlier in the year Dorset Chamber successfully submitted a proposal to the Dorset LEP for the delivery of a business support signposting service, the Dorset Gateway. This is a valuable service, providing advice to Dorset businesses on support available and enquiries can be general or issue-based. This service is totally free and open to all businesses (not just Chamber members). It’s already helped many businesses find funding and support from the public sector they didn’t know existed. Call the team on 01202 714818 for your support.

Our focus on partnership continues as we work closely with a range of organisations including local authorities and the Dorset LEP. April 2019 will see the formation of two new local authorities for Dorset and we will work closely with both authorities in helping drive economic growth in Dorset. We also continue to work with town chambers and we were delighted to welcome Sherborne Chamber to the affiliated network earlier this year.

The five accredited South West Chambers have also formally agreed to come together as British Chambers of Commerce South West, to ensure the Chamber network has a regional voice on critical issues such as skills and infrastructure for the region and will be developing a South West manifesto. This partnership will also support the Great South West campaign, co-ordinated by three South West LEPS, to raise the economic profile of the region and attract increased investment in to the region.

Moving on to our Board and Ambassadors, this year we welcomed two new Directors, Caron Khan and Jason Gault and I would like to pass on my thanks to our Board members and Ambassadors that have served the Chamber over the year. At our AGM on 7th December we also welcome Simon Boyd of ReidSteel to the Board and Chris Kane of Greendale Construction as an Ambassador.

I would like to say an extremely warm welcome to our new President Liz Willingham. Liz is extremely well-known as leading light in the business community who is a great champion for the area. I really look forward to working with Liz and our Senior Vice and Junior Vice Presidents Stephen Mills and Warren Munson in the year ahead.

I would also of course like to record my sincere thanks to Paul Tansey for his incredible year as President of Dorset Chamber. Paul has shown boundless energy, passion and enthusiasm for his support of the work of the Chamber and has been a tremendous advocate of the Chamber within the community. Paul has really championed the work we have been doing in building links between education and business and I feel privileged to have worked so closely with Paul.

Next year we celebrate our 70th birthday as a chamber and we will be marking the year with a 70th and look forward to celebrating with you all.
I am also delighted to announce that next year will see the publication of a new Dorset Chamber business magazine, Dorset Business Focus, adding more great, relevant business content from our members.

Finally, I would like to pass on my sincere thanks to our members, partners and stakeholders for their support of Dorset Chamber and of course my team, who all work tirelessly with great passion and enthusiasm in doing a thoroughly professional job.

Ian Girling
Chief Executive
Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry