Cumbria Forum

Cumbria Forum

A four-month online programme that allows the time and space to step away from the day-to-day and focus on building an Organisation for the Future.

Cumbria Forum partner logos which include: European Regional Development Fund, Northern Powerhouse and Cumbria Growth Hub.

About the Programme

The Cumbria Forum, as part of the Cumbria Growth Hub, is designed to help leaders of Cumbria-based SMEs who want to build businesses which focus on both profit and purpose.

As businesses start to move on from the immediate effects of the pandemic and the end of the Brexit Transition Period, it is time to look to the future. In that future, the old ways of doing business will not be enough. Organisations of the Future need to be responsible - not only to their employees and customers, but also to society and the planet. These are the success measures against which consumers and stakeholders now judge companies.

Covering topics such as business resilience, innovation and leadership, under an overarching theme of Responsible Recovery, the Cumbria Forum is delivered online in a safe and trusted peer-learning environment over four months.

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Cumbria Forum SME workshop

Programme Elements

The Cumbria Forum starts with two consecutive days and an overnight stay delivered face to face to kick start the trusted relationships which will accelerate learning amongst the group. The subsequent workshops will be delivered via an online platform, ending with a final face to face Action Focused session. The programme includes two sessions per month, interspersed with a facilitated peer consultancy process to apply learnings to your business. The focus on practical learning means there are no formal assessments.

The Benefits

The Cumbria Forum will help you to develop a plan for a business which is not just economically successful, but is also socially and environmentally responsible. With the support of the programme’s peer network and the challenge of the University and leading business experts, you will forge a clear path to turn your business into an Organisation for the Future.

Amy Scott, Director at Cyclewise, explains why the Cumbria Forum was right for the business and how the programme supported their growth plans.

The start of a business education for a classical guitarist turned new business director

As career moves go, switching from being a professional classical guitarist to the business development director of an outdoor publishing company has to be amongst the more dramatic.

And yet that’s exactly the job shift that Joe Williams made when he joined the family business, Cicerone Press.

It was a change that brought Joe closer to his love of the mountains – one of the publisher’s chief specialisms. It was also the start of a journey that will see him and his sister, Maddy, eventually take over the reins from his parents, managing directors Jonathan and Lesley Williams, who run the 52-year-old Kendal-based firm.

As career moves go, switching from being a professional classical guitarist to the business development director of an outdoor publishing company has to be amongst the more dramatic.

And yet that’s exactly the job shift that Joe Williams made when he joined the family business, Cicerone Press.

It was a change that brought Joe closer to his love of the mountains – one of the publisher’s chief specialisms. It was also the start of a journey that will see him and his sister, Maddy, eventually take over the reins from his parents, managing directors Jonathan and Lesley Williams, who run the 52-year-old Kendal-based firm.

When he joined Cicerone Press six years ago, Joe was, as he puts it: “At the start of his business education.” Keen to expand his understanding of both the theory and practicalities of good business leadership, he enrolled in the Cumbria Forum at Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).

Joe says: “Looking back, I was a little green when I joined the programme and so it gave me the firm foundation I needed in business strategy, market orientation and creating customer value.

“Because the Forum is delivered by world-leading academics, the principles are very modern. We covered ethics, sustainability, the circular economy, corporate entrepreneurship, increasing employee wellbeing…the kind of things that business leaders should know to survive and thrive today.

“I remember attending a Cumbria Forum session with LUMS Professor Gerry Johnson and being very aware that I was being taught strategic management by someone who was at the very top of his field.

“Back then, I found some of the questions quite difficult to answer – like what our customers really want, need and expect from us – and yet now, these principles are at the heart of how we run our business.

“One of the key things I took from the Cumbria Forum is the importance of making certain things explicit within a business. At Cicerone Press, our vision, mission and values used to be implicit: things that we hoped would be understood. Now we are working to make them very much explicit, so that our whole team can get behind them.”

The start of lasting connections and friendships

Half a decade on, Joe is still in regular contact with many of his fellow Cumbria Forum delegates.

He says: “One of the primary benefits of the Cumbria Forum has been the relationships that we’ve built up as a team – particularly amongst a few of us that set up a small ‘action learning’ group.

“It has given me a support network of fellow delegates, now very much friends, who have been a constant over the last six years.

“We come from hugely differing businesses around Cumbria: one runs a chain of solicitors, another works for a plumbing company and another is in the glass manufacturing industry. Yet whether our issues are similar or different, sharing and talking them over always offers insight.”

An enduring relationship with Lancaster University

Having caught the business education bug, Joe has recently completed the LUMS Executive MBA (EMBA).

Joe says: “After completing the Cumbria Forum, I went to as many LUMS masterclasses as possible, keen to pick up as much as I could from the business leaders who are connected to the school.

“As a company, we are now making use of contacts in University’s Centre for Family Business which is helping us to prepare for the leadership transition.

“For me, the EMBA was the logical next step in that journey.

“Taking part in the Cumbria Forum kicked off a relationship with the Management School which is based on the genuine way in which LUMS sets out to help businesses. I can only see that relationship enduring and deepening in future.”

The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Cumbrian SMEs with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees and an annual turnover of less than €50m.

To find out more, contact Ewan Pullan at cumbriaforum@lancaster.ac.uk.

Joe Williams, Cicerone Press

How the Cumbria Forum has resulted in real change at a Cumbrian plumbing specialists

At a point when leaders are working harder than ever to find and fulfil business amid supply chain and staffing challenges, taking time away from the office can seem impossible.

It’s a situation that Dave Shepherd of Cumbria’s Express Plumbing Supplies (EPS) found himself in.

A sales and marketing director for the business, which has five branches across the county, the pandemic had provided no shortage of additional work, for better or for worse.

At a point when leaders are working harder than ever to find and fulfil business amid supply chain and staffing challenges, taking time away from the office can seem impossible.

It’s a situation that Dave Shepherd of Cumbria’s Express Plumbing Supplies (EPS) found himself in.

A sales and marketing director for the business, which has five branches across the county, the pandemic had provided no shortage of additional work, for better or for worse.

Dave explains: “Sales have been phenomenal on both the retail and trade side, thanks to the boom in home improvement during the lockdowns. But there have also been time-consuming challenges in sourcing the stock we need due to general chaos at the ports, as well as Brexit and the Suez Canal blockage. At the same time, the pandemic has meant staff shortages are worse than they have ever been.

“I had so many ideas for how to use the surge in business as a springboard to improvement, but I barely had a chance to give them a fleeting consideration before something more urgent landed.”

Translating business strategy into practical action plans

Dave felt that he needed time to focus, and so, on the recommendation of a previous delegate, he joined the Cumbria Forum from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).

On the fully-funded business support programme, delegates learn the latest models and theory in themes including business resilience, innovation and leadership, from world-class LUMS academics and business experts.

The core programme includes two sessions per month, interspersed with facilitated peer-learning groups, where delegates apply the theory they’ve learned through action plans.

Dave says: “I discovered that many of my fellow Cumbria Forum delegates, had, like me, come with problems to solve, or ideas to explore that they just could not find the time for amongst the day-to-day demands of leading a business.

“Although taking time out may seem to add to the pressure, it gave me the space I needed to think and plan.

“During the sessions, we explored business strategy, like using the Business Model Canvas to set out a business plan, and developed our customer value proposition.

“The session on developing our value proposition particularly stood out for me. It helped me to understand that our customers choose Express Plumbing Supplies for our service and product knowledge. It doesn’t always come down to price.”

Re-evaluating his role within the company

The Cumbria Forum gave Dave the clarity he needed to make his plans a reality. He says: “One of the main things I took from the sessions was that the ideas I had were strong but that for one reason or another I had never implemented them. Taking part in the Forum focussed my mind on what I was going to actually do.

“The programme helped me to refocus how I spend my time. In fact, I’ve now re-evaluated and repositioned my role within the company: taking on more of a project management role so that I could concentrate on planning, prioritising and delivering the change we need.

“It’s amazing, now, to look at all the improvements we’ve been able to make at EPS, thanks to the Cumbria Forum.

“For example, I’m leading the re-invention of bathroom showrooms at our branches, which before now, have predominantly served trade customers. It means that in future we will be able to more easily tap into a whole new retail customer base without opening new branches.

“We also have screens on our trade counters which provide how-to videos and product and industry information for customers.

“Behind the scenes, we finally got to grips with our stock inventory, categorising the 56,000 items that we sell. This will make stock management and pricing control much easier, and save hours of staff time.”

The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Cumbrian SMEs with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees and an annual turnover of less than €50m.

To find out more, contact Ewan Pullan at cumbriaforum@lancaster.ac.uk.

David Shepherd, Sales and Marketing Director, Express Plumbing

How the Cumbria Forum helped Kendal’s Levens Hall triumph despite the pandemic

If, when collecting your takeaway, Google Maps directs you into the grounds of the largest Elizabethan home in the North of England, you could be forgiven for assuming you’ve taken a wrong turn.

And yet, there at Levens Hall, you will find the Goat Shed, serving, as its initials hint, the Greatest Of All Takeaways. A bean and pea salad that features shoots picked daily from the 11-acre gardens, pastrami sandwiches, and a goat’s cheese sourdough pizza, are just a few of the options available to go.

If, when collecting your takeaway, Google Maps directs you into the grounds of the largest Elizabethan home in the North of England, you could be forgiven for assuming you’ve taken a wrong turn.

And yet, there at Levens Hall, you will find the Goat Shed, serving, as its initials hint, the Greatest Of All Takeaways. A bean and pea salad that features shoots picked daily from the 11-acre gardens, pastrami sandwiches, and a goat’s cheese sourdough pizza, are just a few of the options available to go.

Having opened its Levens Kitchen restaurant almost three years ago, owner Richard Bagot and his team had already begun to develop the culinary offering of the historic house and gardens, which is situated five miles south of Kendal.

But it was the pandemic that saw them branch out into takeaways and more, as they sought to keep customers flowing in, even when the restaurant doors had to close.

It's an example of creativity in the age of coronavirus: where leaders have identified the most successful elements of their businesses and found a way to not only satisfy but grow customer demand despite the restrictions.

And yet, for Richard, success didn’t feel at all like a certainty back in Spring 2020.

He explains: “When the full implications of the first lockdown became clear, it felt like a doomsday scenario. We were envisaging selling things and laying people off.

“The furlough scheme and grants from the government and Historic England helped cover some of the larger costs, but, as a business dependent on visitors, we had to find a way to generate an income to survive in the medium and long term.

“I was grasping for something to help me find a way through when my friend suggested I join a programme offered by Lancaster University Management School (LUMS).”

Fully-funded support for Cumbrian SMEs

It was the Cumbria Forum Covid Response business support programme, which included sessions with world-class academics and peer-to-peer learning groups, designed to help the leaders of Cumbria-based SMEs build an organisation for the future.

Richard continues: “I joined the Cumbria Forum with a fully open mind, not really sure what direction I wanted the business in. What I did know is that I wanted to take a step back from the business and think creatively but realistically about what we could do.

“We were not in a position to take on vast capital projects: our pandemic solution had to be streamlined and cost-effective whilst allowing us to make bigger margins. Instead, the Forum prompted me to think about the resources we had already, and how we could maximise their potential.

“By keeping a sign out on the road letting passing traffic know that we remained open we were able to stay in the public consciousness. It was a very simple step but more than our competitors were doing. It encouraged many of our customers to get into the habit of dropping by once or twice a week.”

The power of peer learning

Because of the pandemic, Richard and his fellow delegates joined the Forum fully online. He continues: “One of the huge benefits of taking part in the Forum is the peer learning style. The value I took from sharing experiences with other business owners, and bouncing ideas off them, was huge.

“I found that getting an outsiders’ perspective on the challenges within the business really helped my thinking and decision making. In fact, although we all came from different organisations, we often shared similar hurdles and headaches.”

Now, Richard and his thirty-strong team are continuing to build on their success: “Alongside the takeaways, we started up supper clubs and offered picnics and luxury hampers. In short, we moved from deciding to close the restaurant completely to opening it up, via the Goat Shed collection point, at every possible opportunity.

“What started out feeling like the biggest disaster known to man became an opportunity for us.

“We’re now looking forward to next year and an increase in group travel. It will offer another chance for us to build on the innovation and creative thinking that has served us so well this year, and hopefully expand the business even further.”

The programme is fully-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Cumbrian SMEs with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees and an annual turnover of less than €50m.

To find out more, contact Ewan Pullan at cumbriaforum@lancaster.ac.uk.

Rachael Bagshaw, Just R Founder and CEO
Business people

"This programme is a fantastic opportunity for growth orientated small and mid-sized companies in Cumbria, helping them grow skills and confidence in equal measure." - Ewan Pullan, Programme Manager

Costs & Apply

This programme is fully funded and available to businesses which are eligible under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) criteria, as follows:

  • Based in Cumbria
  • Employ fewer than 250 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees
  • Annual turnover of less than €50 million (or the equivalent in GBP)
  • Received less than €200,000 of de minimis State Aid in the last 3 years.

To discover more about the programme or to apply, please get in touch with us.

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