The three Chamber Presidents, Sandy Bell, Jim King and Rod Podger.
The area’s leading business organisation is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a fresh plan to promote businesses operating here. Chew Valley Chamber of Commerce is planning to produce a map which highlights the wide variety of businesses run by members.
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 the Chamber’s Honorary Life President, was succeeded by the current Vice President and Treasurer, Rod Podger, and later by Sandy Bell, the third President and first woman to hold the office.
Starting as a sub-group of the Norton Radstock Chamber, the Chew Valley group quickly became an independent Chamber in its 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 The Chew Valley Chamber has 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.
President Sandy Bell said there were issues that the Chamber would continue to raise: “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,” explained Sandy.
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 and most recently Brexit. Now we are in a period of uncertainty over Coronavirus and we have to grapple with the green agenda and how that plays out 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,” added Sandy.