A warm welcome from Chamber President Sandy Bell.
We had hoped to mark our 20th anniversary by publishing a promotional map of the area to highlight the wide variety of businesses, but that was put on hold because of the pandemic. We have high hopes that we will be able to produce something during the course of this year.
Right back at the beginning, the first President, Jim King said something which is still true today, perhaps even more so: “People outside the area may regard the Valley as a sleepy, Somerset back water. But the truth is it is a hive of industry and our members reflect a wide variety of businesses, from traditional rural pursuits right the way through to the most modern of high-tech companies.”
Jim, who is now our Honorary Life President, was succeeded by the current Vice President and Treasurer, Rod Podger, and later by myself, the third President and first woman to hold the office.
Starting as a sub-group of the Norton Radstock Chamber, we quickly became an independent Chamber in our own right. The original aim was to provide the two main traditional Chamber of Commerce services. First, by providing a forum for people to meet, helping them to get to know one another and helping them do business together. Secondly, to represent the interests of our members in the corridors of power.
Over the last 20 years we have done exactly that during a period in which there have been enormous changes in the way the economy works. For example, the improvement in broadband has meant that many more people can work from home or operate from premises created in former agricultural buildings.
We will keep up pressure to improve public transport links, which if achieved, will be of benefit to businesses and residents alike. During the last year we invited people from First Bus to explain their ideas about how to help rural communities such as ours link into the main arterial bus routes. It might be possible to have a mini-bus scooping up people and delivering them to the A37. A Rural Transport Group for Bath and North East Somerset has also been set up during the year and we are members of it.
The Chamber has also continued to highlight the problems of parking in Chew Magna, suggesting a second main car park could be used for people who work in the village and so freeing up space for customers in the Pelican car park.
Probably most important of all, we have celebrated the success of our members’ businesses, for instance we very much enjoyed our visit to the Limeburn Hill Vineyard, which was a particular highlight. But we are always delighted to hear about things going well and raise the profile of our members by offering the opportunity to use the Chamber website.
Over the years the Chamber has been keen to do its bit to encourage entrepreneurs of the future by sponsoring an annual prize at Chew Valley School and are now looking at new ways to use the skills and experience of members to help students prepare for the world of work.
The Chamber has kept in close contact with Bath and North East Somerset Council, thanks to regular visits from Cabinet members which are an opportunity to raise matters of concern and through membership of the Initiative in B&NES and Business West has played a role in the broader business community.
We’ve faced a range of challenges over the last 20 years, including Foot and Mouth, the financial crash, Brexit, Coronavirus and now uncertainty over Ukraine.
We will also need to consider how the green agenda plays out in future in a non-urban setting.
But by working together I am confident we will do our very best to continue to grow the local economy. We’re planning to help with that by producing a brochure or leaflet of some kind which will celebrate our 20th anniversary by highlighting the broad range of businesses that are flourishing in our beautiful Valley.
We are always glad to welcome new members and to grow our local business network for the benefit of the Chew Valley community.
With best wishes,