A message from David Owen, Chief Executive GFirst LEP

There is no doubt that 2020 has been an unforgettable year.

Most of our businesses have faced huge challenges, unemployment has risen, and of course most tragically, almost 700 families in Gloucestershire have lost a loved one.  Through all the difficulties and tragedy of Covid our county has shown incredible levels of resilience, determination, and community spirit.
The efforts of our frontline workers in Gloucestershire have been nothing short of incredible – and we all owe them a huge thank you.  I’m also incredibly proud of the huge effort the GFirst team have made to support businesses across the county, and so impressed by the way in which so many businesses in our county played their part - delivering PPE, supporting charities and the most vulnerable, and adapting and pivoting their businesses to trade through Covid restrictions.
For all of us it’s been a tough year.  Personally, I’ve seen two daughters miss out on proving themselves through GCSE’s and A levels; not been able to see or hug my Dad on his 75th Birthday; and really missed the spontaneity of a quick trip to the pub or a weekend at one of our great local music festivals.  I’ve really appreciated the strong sense of community support from neighbours and friends, the spine tingling feeling of the first Thursday evening applause for key workers, less time sat in my car between meetings, and as a result more time focused on the important things.
In spite of everything, we’ve also seen enormous progress made in developing Gloucestershire’s economy.  New investments by GFirst LEP with our partners at KW Bell, Hartpury University, Cirencester College, Cheltenham Borough Council, and Gloucestershire College will mean our eco-system for cyber and digital, agri-tech, and construction continues to develop.  The progress on delivery of Golden Valley, the home of Cyber Central from both Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucestershire County Council is making great strides.  Our Growth Hub offer continues to develop and flourish and has been at the forefront of offering support to businesses and gathering information and data to influence Government policy to support our businesses.
We’ve launched a Business Recovery Toolkit to help businesses on the road to recovery, a Skills Portal to provide much needed support to those who find themselves unemployed, a Careers Hub to guide and inspire then next generation of talent, and specialist advisory services to improve business growth and resilience and to guide our businesses through the exit from the European Union.
Our Business Groups have provided vital input that has directed our response to the economic crisis and, as they always are, the GFirst LEP Board have provided the vision and direction for our recovery planning and the immediate response to the crisis.  The newsletters the GFirst team have provided have never been so well read – in particular those that offered advice and guidance on mental health and resilience for individuals.
We know 2021 is going to be a challenging year, not least as we feel the full economic impact of Covid but we can see some very positive signs.  The launch of the vaccine programme clearly provides all of us with cause for optimism.  Nationally we are working with all of our Gloucestershire MPs, our business groups and our local councils in order that we can make a strong case for Gloucestershire to receive the biggest investment possible from the newly announced Levelling Up fund. At a local level, 2021 will see the completion of transport improvements in West Cheltenham for the Golden Valley development, the opening of Growth Hubs in the Forest of Dean and Cheltenham and a package of improvements at Gloucester Railway Station. 
As we prepare for a different Christmas and New Year period we must all continue to follow the guidance – hands, face, space in particular – to ensure Gloucestershire has the best chance of recovering from the most difficult of years.
Everyone at GFirst LEP would like to thank all our partners and our Gloucestershire business community for the huge effort made during 2020 and for your continued support in 2021. 
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

If you’d like to help us in strengthening the economy of Gloucestershire, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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