Bristol East Side Traders

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Everybody loves a party, but Bristol East Side Traders (Best) used people's love of a good day out to help foster and encourage emerging businesses in some of Bristol's poorest areas.

By organising street festivals in St Marks Road and St Paul's Market, two of the city's busiest inner-city trading areas, the group helped create a sense of pride in the local community. The festivals enabled people to run stalls and tryout their business ideas, and gave local traders the opportunity to get their products to customers. They also made closer links with other businesses operating in the two streets.

"The festivals got people out onto the streets talking to each other and exchanging ideas, while promoting the inner-city as a place to do business" said Helen Bone, project manager at Best. "Our aim is to share our experience, and demonstrate successful ways of supporting enterprise in the inner-city, which all helps us challenge negative stereotypes:'

This face-to-face approach is central to how Best works with small social enterprises. It has since run seminars on the importance of festivals for encouraging business in deprived areas, and also uses one-to-one and group sessions to access hard-to-reach communities. Training is offered in aspects of business, including planning, finance and marketing. The remit is simple: to take a grassroots approach to helping community businesses flourish. So far, over 500 businesses and individuals have approached Best for help.

"By knocking on doors and talking on a one-to-one basis with businesses, we can not only assess needs, encourage participation and build credibility, but can ensure that all of our clients are aware of the opportunities available;' Ms Bone says. "This could be including them in our inner-city business directory, inviting them to a marketing event, or inviting them to take part in networking opportunities:' The sheer scope of the services Best offers to local social enterprises also lets them provide individual businesses with long-term support.

When the local authority closed the Lower Ashley Road for repairs, a local businessman who owned a restaurant and oriental supermarket was threatened with ruin. Fearing a drop in trade, he turned to Best for advice. The project helped him get the road re-opened, and to win compensation for lost earnings. They then went on to help him develop plans to move his business to a more profitable site.

Best also worked to improve the trading environment of the new premises, providing him and other small businesses in the area with advice on security, and how to work more closely with the police to tackle community safety issues.

The success of its work - over 330 individuals helped to start up or expand a small business in the Bristol area, safeguarding more than 100 jobs - has led to some of its projects being mainstreamed by local authority and enterprise support agencies. "Hopefully this will let the project team use its time and resources to identify further gaps in local support services and develop projects to deal with these;' Ms Bone says. "The funding we've already received gave us the flexibility actually to give some long-term business advice:'

"The festivals got people out onto the streets talking to each other and exchanging ideas, while promoting the inner-city as a place to do business."