Overall, the Chamber made good progress in a number of key areas in 2019. Although we had made a small loss this year (just over £5,000 on a turnover of £128,000), we did well with our targets for attracting new members and membership renewals, we increased our Patron membership and we developed some exciting, new projects.
In June last year, we ran our successful seventh Kingston Business Expo at the University and our second Chessington Expo at Chessington School. These were well attended, with a combined footfall of around 600 visitors and around 75 stand holders.
Over the year, we have had constructive dialogues with the leader and CEO of Kingston Council. I believe that there is a greater appreciation of how collaborating can work for the better. During the COVID outbreak, there were weekly meetings to make the communication to businesses more joined up and we will be involved in a new Council-led Economic Recovery Taskforce. I am grateful for the regular connections with Sean Gillen at the Council in particular and Kirsten Henly at Kingston First.
2019 saw a growth in our Patron membership. This is an exclusive opportunity for businesses to take a more active and leading role in helping to shape the future of the local business community. Kingston College, the University, McDonalds and Holland Hahn & Wills, were joined by new Patrons, Summers Inman, Pearson Hards, IQ in IT and in January of 2020, Canadian Portland. The sharing of perspectives and the knowledge exchange makes these meetings fascinating. We are very grateful for to our Patrons for their continuing and collaborative support for us and to the community.
At the end of 2019, the Chamber, took the decision to explore the possibility of hosting a new, truly local business awards programme. I am indebted to the enthusiasm and financial commitment from Kingston University, Kingston College and McDonalds and the support from Kingston First, Kingston Council and many others as this has allowed us to create the new Kingston Borough Business Awards. Due to the current climate, we have put the programme on hold but when the time is appropriate, we look forward to making this a key event which will recognise the tremendous business talent and resilience we have in this Borough.
At the end of last year and beginning of 2020, the Chamber began to develop a New Malden Business Forum. The purpose of this is to pull together business voices in New Malden and use the Chamber as a conduit to feed these in to the Council and other partners. As a borough wide Chamber, we are aware that the district centres (Surbiton, Tolworth, New Malden and Chessington) tend to fall under the radar when the conversations focus on Kingston and the town centre. Due to COVID, this has been delayed but I am keen to get this back up and running later this year.
We were just about to launch our exciting, new Kingston Chamber events mobile App when lockdown struck. The purpose of the App was to keep in regular member contact with updates on events and making them easy to join. We look forward to rolling this out when we get back into networking and social events.
In July 2019, we created a new Chamber supporter package. This provides a new affordable and visible sponsorship offering for our membership. This not only increased our members’ branding on all marketing collateral but it also gave out a strong public message that our members were keen to put financial support back into the business community. In the first six months of running this package, the Chamber gained thirteen new supporters which was excellent and really appreciated.
The Year Ahead
After the prolonged deabtes and inertia on Brexit since 2016, the beginning of 2020 gave some fresh enthusiasm. However, when COVID19 struck, this had a profound impact on all businesses and many of our members, but most significantly on many of our Borough strengths; hospitality, education, retailers and the cultural sector in Kingston.
The Chamber is no different to many other businesses. We have had to go online at a rapid rate and learnt the joys and pitfuls of technology. We have hosted a broad range of webinars including Q&As with the Leader and CEO of the Council and our local MPs, provided online networking every two weeks, extremely creative quiz nights, and on July 8th, our first online business Expo. This was an ambitious, technical event and put together within 7 weeks. It had seminars, speed networking, exhibitor stands and a series of roundtable discussions to provide learning opportunities for all sizes and types of businesses. With over 240 people attending during the day, I am so proud of how the sponsors, speakers, roundtable guests and visitors contributed to the event.
The path ahead will not be easy and difficult to predict. The Chamber is looking hard at how it can continue delivering effective membership support and also scrutinizing how to maintain our own financial sustainability and tightly managing our overheads. There are areas that the Chamber will need to look at to remodel and innovate. The outcome of this COVID situation may lead to a mixture of online and in person events.
Confidence is going to be vital to how we move forward. The Chamber will need to demonstrate patience, empathy, understanding and we must provide confidence, guidance and encouragement. It is at this critical time that we all must play our part. Our membership and partners will judge us on how we have contributed and supported them. Our drive and culture must always be focused on being the best we can be, to be the most relevant, beneficial and welcoming Chamber we can for our borough, for our partners and for our membership.
Thank You and Welcome
I would like give a big thank you to Martha Mador, our outgoing President. She has been very supportive and diligent, willing to help out wherever she can and has a calmness to which I admire. It has been a pleasure working with her during this time. I am looking forward to working with Kat Damcova as our new President and I am delighted that Rowena Bass will be joining us as Vice President. They will bring considerable skills and business/community knowledge which will help shape our agendas in the forthcoming year.
I am delighted that Julie Leach (Julie Leach Associates), Michelle Peters (Paragon Cleaning), Mike Reed (Time& Leisure) and Joyce Ong (Marketing Tech) are coming on board as new Directors and I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to the valuable contributions from David Hamblin (HSBC), Lauren Cullen (Cullen &Co), Sean Arulrajah (Metro Bank) and Guy Fallows (Fallows and Co) who are stepping down.
The Chamber team has had over a year of working with me, and at times, I know I have driven them a little crazy, particularly with my complete disregard for using a group diary. The team of Amanda, Natalie and Wanda have been patient and provided me with great support and guidance for which I am very grateful. They are a committed and wonderful team to work with. I am proud to represent the Kingston business community and humbled to work with so many talented people.
Take care and all the very best
CEO, Kingston Chamber of Commerce