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Welcome Back Fund Provides Boost To More Than 500 Local Businesses

A fund established to help hospitality and tourism businesses across the region reopen and recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has supported more than 500 businesses – allowing thousands of local people return to work safely.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen launched the Welcome Back Fund, the first phase in a £1million scheme, which offered grants of up to £1,500 to help pubs, restaurants, bars, hotels, museums and venues make changes to the way they work so they could reopen following the further relaxing of lockdown restrictions on 4 July.

The hugely popular fund was fully subscribed less than a week after opening.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen previously visited the Cleveland Bay in Stockton, whose landlord Peter Rafferty had taken advantage of the cash to help get ready to reopen, praising the “great scheme”.

Local people across Tees Valley spend approximately £7.5million per week in restaurants, cafes and pubs, which employ more than 13,500 people in full and part-time roles. The investment from the Welcome Back Fund, alongside industry support, contributed to an estimated total sector boost of £2.3million for the first week of trading.

Mayor Houchen said: “Our hospitality sector is hugely important to our economy, it employs thousands of people and represents a swath of small and medium sized businesses, supporting these amazing firms is a key part of my plan for jobs and recovery. As we come out of the coronavirus pandemic, I will do all I can to protect and support local jobs and local workers across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

“The response to our Welcome Back Fund shows just how important it was to get the scheme up and running as quickly as possible so that our pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality and leisure businesses could get on and prepare to reopen.

“I’m delighted we could provide a lifeline to so many businesses that bring such joy to people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, and also help those working in our fantastic hospitality and attractions get back into work quickly, with the knowledge it’s a safe environment to be.”

The Welcome Back fund is being used by businesses to buy health and safety equipment to meet Government’s Covid-19 Secure guidelines as well as to promote their reopening and help to ensure they meet the “We’re Good To Go” national tourism industry standards unveiled by Visit Britain.

Further phases of the £1million project will include grant funding and training to support development and innovation; support for young people looking to pursue careers in these sectors and activity to make the region a top UK destination for cycling and walking holidays.

To further help businesses, the Mayor has appointed Annabel Turpin, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Stockton’s ARC and Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership Culture lead, to head up a Task Force to support the recovery of the culture and tourism sector in the region. The Task Force will be made up of leaders and experts across tourism, hospitality, the visitor economy, culture, creative arts, digital and further education. Its aim will be to help secure jobs and help boost growth over the next 12 months and beyond.

Annabel Turpin said: “The impact of the pandemic on businesses has been difficult for everyone, but particularly in areas where people are coming face-to-face with members of the public daily. Even those that have weathered the storm and not been forced to close by Government have seen severe knock-on impacts as the industry slows down.

“I’m determined to help get our recovery back on track by working with the Mayor and other partners across Tees Valley to put together actions which will target exactly what our culture and tourism industries need to grow, create jobs and keep the region a great place to live.”

The news came as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak MP announced a number of moves to support hospitality and tourism, including a six-month VAT reduction to 5% for the sectors, and an “Eat Out, Help Out” scheme giving customers a Government-backed discount of up to £10 per head for customers eating in restaurants during in August.