Sara Williams took over as the Chief Executive of North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce in November 2011 and has since overseen the creation of the powerful Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce group. Her aim is to create a welcoming organising every local business wants to join and making Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire a place full of prosperity and opportunity.
Previously she was Director of Enterprise at St Helens Chamber. Responsible for a team of talented people helping change the culture of enterprise in St Helens – from working with young people in schools through to helping businesses facing tough decisions.
Sara is a strong advocate for the private sector taking a lead in all aspects of economic development. She believes that Chambers of Commerce provide an excellent platform for engaging with and supporting businesses to grow and prosper. This comes from having run her own small arts consultancy business and coming from a family of entrepreneurs, some more successful than others.
Sara has a wealth of experience working with the private sector to develop services in response to their needs, as well as a proven track record of lobbying and representing businesses. Previously, Sara has worked in marketing and community development as well as in museums and galleries. She originally trained as a museum curator at Manchester University after a first degree in Medieval History at University College London.
Sara has been a Governor of Liverpool John Moores University and is currently on the Board of Governors of Staffordshire University and a non-Executive Director of the highly regarded New Vic Theatre based in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Sara splits her time between Staffordshire and Liverpool and returns to her home town of Nottingham, where she went to school at Nottingham High School for Girls, on a regular basis. She has recently got married to her partner of 23 years and they have three grown up children between them. In her spare time, Sara enjoys gardening (her Liverpool garden is part of the National Garden Scheme), sewing (she has a passion for clothes), and salsa dancing.
Supporting the Chamber in promoting enterprise
A blog by Jeremy Lefroy
Chair of Staffordshire Enterprise Board
The Staffordshire Enterprise Board was formed in 2020, in part to take on the work of Stafford Enterprise which had supported new enterprise in Stafford Borough for around 30 years.
The brief was widened to cover the whole of the County and City, to support Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and other organisations, in activities which create new jobs and encourage people to start up a new enterprise.
The Chambers have never had more resources to help people who are starting a new business venture than they do now. There are four specialist business start-up advisors branded as Staffordshire START. Staffordshire County Council is also partnering with the Chambers, offering 12-month interest free loans of up to £5000 to businesses fulfilling the criteria.
In a drive to promote self-employment opportunities for young people, the Staffordshire Student Start-up Programme was launched in January. Delivered by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, and funded by Staffordshire County Council, it is a new programme of free advice, mentoring and support for post-18 FE students looking to set up their own business.
For more information on all the above schemes for business start-ups here: https://bit.ly/2DwJzsu
Both our universities are represented on the Board and are a great support. Staffordshire University have their own start-up programme ( https://bit.ly/2QWpjY7), which has helped more than 170 businesses to start up in the past five years. Keele University offers internships for graduates (https://bit.ly/3aFeiB8) from any university to find out more about a career or type of organisation and provide them with experience vital for their CVs. It also gives employers the opportunity to test out both the candidate and a potential role within their company.
The availability of finance for start-ups can make or break a potential new business idea. Sourcing more non-debt finance is another of the group’s priorities. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub, https://bit.ly/3aB2cco, based at the Chamber, provides up to date advice and guidance on current grant funding and loans. We also have close links with venture capital providers such as BCRS (https://bit.ly/3aB2cco), Midven (Midven) and Michelin Development (https://bit.ly/3eu2Rh3).
The Government’s Kickstart Scheme offers fully funded six-month work placements for 18–24-year-olds up to the end of 2022. The Chamber is a conduit for the scheme which is administered by Job Centre Plus and the DWP. There has been a tremendous response so far with 1500 vacancies on offer in the City and County, around 800 applications advertised and over 150 places filled. More information: Kickstart – Staffordshire Chambers
Improving skills is a top priority. Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub headed by Suzanne Quinn, have done fine work with hundreds of Staffordshire businesses, facilitating training relevant to each organisation, and providing significant funding to offset costs. More information: https://bit.ly/3xo5f1s
We invite a guest speaker to each forum meeting and at the last meeting our guest speaker was Faye Williams from the Community Foundation for Staffordshire. Faye talked about UN Sustainability goals and how we can promote them amongst businesses.
This is an overview of the activities encouraged and supported by the Staffordshire Enterprise Board. In the coming months, we will go into more detail on each of them. I am very grateful to the team at the Chambers, led by Sara Williams and Tom Nadin, without whom this work would not be possible.
If you would like to know more, and if you would consider joining us to support enterprise in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to talk about any business issues, you can call the Chambers switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002 or email: email@example.com
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