How Brexit Uncertainty Has Focussed Shaftesbury Businesses

ThisisAlfred visited the Wincombe Centre to hear how many Shaftesbury entrepreneurs use the business units to establish their new ventures. Keri Jones learned heard about the centre’s expansion and why its manager believes Brexit uncertainty is encouraging local businesses to determine what they do best.

The weather this week has not been pleasant. And for Wincombe Centre Manager Wendy Ibbotson, the winds and rain have been a pain. Her builders have been battling the gusts and downpours as they construct new business premises – the future home of Friars Moors Vets. “We’re hoping for an end of February finish now. We were a little late starting but hopefully the weather will be kind to us over the next couple of months,” said Wendy.

The new building represents a major investment for the three directors who took over the business units from North Dorset District Council in 2009. “They saw this as a property investment as well as something that they could do for the local area. When we bought it, it was a large building with ten offices. We’ve split it down into much smaller, more manageable offices,” said Wendy.

Wincombe Centre Manager Wendy Ibbotson

Wendy says they have already found the next tenant for the space currently occupied by the vets. The newcomers will pick up the office keys when the vets move into the new building, next door. “It gives us back a large office which we will convert for small businesses from the local area. It’s going to end up as a financial office.”

Approximately forty businesses share the Wincombe Centre’s office space, next door to what is currently a building site. There are 44 offices. Some firms have taken more than one space. The offices can’t be used for retail and occupants can’t undertake noisy activity. There’s no water in the rooms, so they wouldn’t suit hairdressers, for instance. But recent occupants have included a goldsmith, a bunting maker and there’s a podiatrist on site now.

Most of Wendy’s clients are from the immediate area. “They are mostly local,” said Wendy. “We have a couple of businesses from Southampton that have this as their local office.”

The Wincombe Centre doesn’t normally build bespoke premises for their occupants but Wendy says they had some space and the vets were a special case. “They approached us and we were able to help them. It’s important to be able to keep businesses like them in Shaftesbury, which is why we decided to do it.”

Wendy spends much of her time talking with local businesses. In her ten years in the role she’s seen the economic downturn as well as increased use of technology like 4G mobile and superfast broadband, which has transformed the way in which some Shaftesbury businesses operate.

“People will take an office and they will only be in a couple of days a week. They will work from home or work away from home. I think there’s a much more flexible approach to work. Work needs to fit around their lives. But on the other hand, people can work here seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We have people working here until silly hours in the night-time.”

Brexit could change the way in which some of Wendy’s clients do business, too. And, despite the recent spell of gloomy weather and uncertainty over the future of the nation, she says that her occupants are not downbeat about Shaftesbury’s prospects. They are simply being prudent.

“Gloomy is not a situation I think we are in. We are in a cautious situation and that’s different,” explained Wendy. “I think that people are aware of the bottom line. Making profit and increasing your profit is better than building your business. You don’t need to build the business for building’s sake. We need to keep our money working for us. People are working harder and are thinking about their unique selling points and being more specific about their work and what they do. They are making great successes of their businesses by thinking more about what they’re actually offering and making themselves unique in the marketplace. As they are more cautious, that makes them more aware of their financials, which is a good thing.”

The Wincombe Centre doesn’t tie occupants into long leases. Wendy says that is a very attractive aspect for businesspeople at the moment. “They come to us for our flexibility, I think. We offer licences, which have only two weeks notice to leave. There’s no real risk taking an office with us compared to taking a lease on a large unit.”

And Wendy says this flexibility is attractive. “They can take their first step into having office space. A lot of them are homeworkers and taking that first step is a commitment to more money and to work harder but it can work well for them. Within the system, they can move, upsize or downsize quite flexibly within the centre. We also offer a virtual office licence, so people can stay at home and use this as their address, use the meeting room facilities and work upwards from there. That option is popular with people who work from home who have family commitments but want to present themselves professionally with a business address. They can meet clients at the centre.”

Wendy says that the low-risk, short commitment approach can attract established businesses, too. “Some of them have come to us from the end of a lease because they don’t want to sign up again. There is caution at the moment with Brexit. There is a fear of the future and we’re benefiting from that at the moment.”

Wendy has noticed how the make-up of the centre has altered over the last ten years. “We’ve had a big change in the type of businesses. We have a lot of welfare businesses now, like counsellors, which would not have traditionally been in an office situation. You can get a massage and have your wellbeing sorted – all while you’re at work. I think it’s great,” said Wendy, adding, “It’s nice to have a mixture of things.”

Wendy says she hasn’t got a huge waiting list but there is always demand for the units. Foreseeing the impact that Brexit could have on local business is like predicting next year’s weather. And Wendy will be watching both forecasts closely.

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