Money to Grow: Grants for retailers in the UK

With the market shifting and high streets starting to open up again, now's a great time to invest in your business. This could be doing a digital transformation, like adding an e-commerce site, improving your marketing efforts, or updating your store. In the following guide, we look at some of the grants available for UK retailers.

Whatever way you look at it, it is a challenging time to be a bricks-and-mortar retailer.

Average High street footfall across the UK still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic rates with a fall of approximately 30% according to retail analysts Springboard.

With inflation running high, retail analysts Springboard are predicting a further 10% decline in footfall in 2022.

However, with adversity comes opportunity.

While many retailers might think to start tightening their belts, now is the time to invest in your business to help protect it from a potential downturn, open up new sources of revenue or increase your profitability.

All of which sounds great but where can retailers (many of whom have just come through the leanest years of their business) access funds for investment?

retail store

Free money for UK retailers?

While the number of grants (as opposed to loans or other forms of financial assistance that need to be repaid) is shrinking, retailers in the UK can still access some sources of “free” funding through national schemes, regional business development agencies or local councils.

Some of these grants may require match funding, that is, a (usually equal) level of investment from the business to match the level of investment from the granting body.

Disclaimer

The information contained in this blog post in no way constitutes financial advice. The list of funding opportunities presented here is not an exhaustive list and is subject to change with little to no notice from the funding bodies. This post won’t be regularly updated, so check the full details of each scheme before you submit your details for consideration.

What types of grants can UK retailers access?

From our research, most grants available to retailers in the UK fall into three categories

  • Digital Transformation – help with the cost of buying software or equipment to help you move your business online
  • Skills and job creation – help with increasing the number of people on your payroll or with improving their skills set (particularly the skills of younger people or those from disadvantaged backgrounds).
  • Local business improvement schemes – smaller scale funding is also available to promote, improve or connect small localised businesses mainly administered on a local government level

If these three elements don’t match exactly with your business plan, consider how accessing funding in any of these could save you money or increase your profitability, allowing you to free up cash to be applied to the area of your business that most needs improvement.

Most regions of the UK have a business development agency to help new businesses in their region grow and it is worthwhile getting in touch with them directly to find out what is available to you. The level of support varies quite widely and some agencies are better than others (mentioning no names!).

Outside of grant funding, these organisations can help you develop your skillset as a retailer and as a business person, give you access to exclusive financial support and connect you to other businesses in your area.

Also, there is a lot of funding available for businesses that fall into the category of social enterprise. If you can demonstrate a significant level of social value in your business there may be funding opportunities available to you but if you’re in this space, we’d predict you’re well aware of who to apply for funding from and how to access it. A good place to start is the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

But we want to know about cold hard cash, right?

money for growth

What grants are currently available to UK retailers?

We’ve looked at a host of funding opportunities but we’re going to ignore social enterprise funding and have tried to stay away from loan schemes.

But sidebar: these subsidised loan schemes may merit your consideration. Much of the government funding to support new businesses has gone into backing financial services that are accessible to and manageable for small businesses or new entrepreneurs. Many of these schemes will have better terms than your regular bank.

Contact your local business development agency to find out what the best financial support would be for you.

We’re also going to ignore grants under £1,000. While funding at this level is a worthwhile contribution to any business, there are hundreds of small schemes from a plethora of groups and a huge diversity in the application requirements.

Again, the best port of call would be to speak to your local SME business development agency.

We’re also going to skip over covid-recovery funding. Undoubtedly few sectors deserve support more than retail but these schemes are in the process of shutting down (at the time of writing March 2022) and we suspect that most retailers will know how to access them already.

If you’re not sure, speak to your local business development agency, local chamber of commerce or local chapters of trade bodies such as The Britsh Retail Consortium.

We are also going to pass over funds from local councils that are specifically aimed at getting businesses to take over derelict town centre units. If this is part of your business plan, speak to your local council to discuss your options but you should know that funding does exist to encourage businesses to reinvigorate local high streets and take up empty units.

Funding Available to Retailers (UK Wide):

Help to Grow Digital:

This government scheme aims to help businesses grow online or to improve their use of modern technology. You could access a 50% discount on approved technology solutions up to a maximum of £5,000.

The Help to Grow: Digital website provides all businesses with free and impartial information and support to help them adopt new digital technologies.

This includes:

  • guidance and tools to help understand which digital technology is best suited to your business
  • a software comparison tool
  • checklists to help you see whether you’re ready and how to integrate new software
  • case studies about similar businesses

You may be able to get a discount on the costs of buying approved software such as an e-commerce system like Shopify or an integrated multichannel retail package like AirPOS.

https://www.learn-to-grow-your-business.service.gov.uk/

AirPOS is available as part of the Help to Grow scheme, contact us for more details.

Broadband Access Funding

Access to online is a greater challenge for rural businesses, so the government has created a scheme to help rural entrepreneurs gain access to quality broadband service.

Rural retailers can access a ‘voucher’ up to £3500 to meet the costs of installing gigabit or higher broadband access to their property. The voucher is only redeemable through an approved supplier, so the money will never reach your bank account but if you have found this challenge in the past

Organiser:

Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme

Merchant Cash Advances

Merchant Cash Advances are, strictly speaking, a sort of loan but one that merits consideration as they are entirely flexible based on your actual incoming business.

This ‘cash advance’ allows you to get a lump sum upfront and pay it back as your business grows by dedicating a portion of each transaction through your card reader to the repayment.

https://www.365businessfinance.co.uk/business-cash-advances-vs-bank-loans/

Regional Support

Much of the support for small businesses is delivered through devolved government, local councils and regional business development agencies.

Financial support for retailers in England

Be Inspired at Staffordshire University

This scheme from Staffordshire Uni offers free support and guidance for graduates of any university in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to start a business in Staffordshire. Through the scheme you could access:

  • 8 training workshops over 12 months
  • monthly business and networking events
  • monthly mentoring sessions
  • £3000 of financial support
  • bi-monthly business adviser review

Obviously, this only applies to you if you want to start a business in this region!

https://www.staffs.ac.uk/students/careers/be-inspired

Business Energy Efficiency Anglia

SMEs based in Norfolk and Suffolk can access up to £20,000 to pay 40% for almost any carbon saving measure, energy-saving advice and support to gain a Carbon Charter accreditation.

If green commitments are something you wanted to achieve, this scheme could help fund those, freeing up your capital for other parts of your business.

http://www.beeanglia.org/

Business Growth Grant – Leicestershire

Leicestershire based retailers who have been established for more than 12 months and have ambitions to grow could access between £2,000 to £25,000 in grants to provide 35% towards capital projects.

This scheme will also give retailers support from a Business Gateway adviser throughout the application process.

Read more on the Business Gateway website.

Business Growth Grant Scheme – Mansfield

Mansfield District-based businesses can access grants up to £2,500 when spending a minimum of £5,000 on a range of projects.

The grant can be used to pay for:

  • land and building refurbishment
  • buying machinery and equipment
  • for research and development work
  • training staff to implement the growth plan

Get Growing 2: Hertfordshire

SMEs based in Hertfordshire with 5 or more full-time equivalent employees can access grants of up £3,000.

Eligible businesses will also work with a Growth Account Manager who will carry out an in-depth analysis of the business and put in place a growth action plan.

This could include help with:

  • recruitment
  • accessing new markets
  • developing a digital strategy
  • product development

Organiser

Hertfordshire Growth Hub

Green BELLE – Leicestershire

Leicestershire based businesses can access grants up to £10,000 to help them increase their energy efficiency. Funding can cover up to 50% of the cost of installing low carbon and energy-efficient measures in your premises, such as:

  • heating
  • lighting
  • Heating and lighting controls
  • insulation
  • renewable energy
  • energy-efficient equipment

While this is more of a long term solution, improving your shop’s energy efficiency will help you cut costs and increase profits to be reinvested in other areas. So this scheme is well worth your consideration.

Organiser

Leicester City Council

https://www.greenbelle.org.uk/

Growth Grant for Dorset

Dorset businesses trading for more than 12 months, with ambitions to grow can access a grant of between £1,000 – £5,000 for projects with a value of £4,000 or above.

Successful applicants are provided 25% of eligible project costs.

Examples of typical project costs include:

  • Acquisition of plant, machinery, tooling
  • Property improvements
  • Outsourced specialist consultancy
  • IT or digital infrastructure costs such as cloud-based technology
  • Digital marketing and online content production

Organiser:

Dorset Growth Hub

Repair Grants for Heritage at Risk – England

If your retail unit is in a listed or historic building or your district is considered a local heritage attraction you could access grants to help with the urgent repair and conservation of:

  • historic and listed buildings
  • scheduled monuments
  • designed landscapes, registered parks and gardens

You can also get grants for project development work, such as surveys and investigations, that:

  • enable repairs
  • improve future management

Organiser

Historic England

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/grants/our-grant-schemes/repair-grants/

The Supplier Skills Programme (SSP)

SMEs that have been actively trading for 6 months can access grants of between £500 and a maximum of £18,000, funded 50% by the SME and 50% by the European Social Fund.

The SME must be based in one of the following areas:

  • Birmingham
  • Solihull
  • Redditch
  • Bromsgrove
  • Wyre Forest

The grants are designed to allow employees to achieve any of the following qualifications:

  • Full qualifications level 1 to 7, or equivalent (including higher-level management and leadership skills)
  • Units or a unit of qualification at a basic level

Organiser

Birmingham City Council 

Funding available to retailers in Wales

Blaenau Gwent BG Effect Start-up Business Grant Fund

Start-up companies based in the Blaenau Gwent area can apply for £1000 worth of funding to cover a wide range of activities. The funds can cover up to 80% of costs for things such as market research, marketing equipment purchases or property costs and repairs.

An additional fund for businesses aged six months to three years old also exists with the same level of funding but can only cover 50% of costs.

Organiser:

Contact Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council

Bridgend Kick Start

The Bridgend kick-start grant is available to new businesses or businesses in their first 12 months of trading. This is a flexible grant scheme delivered through a partnership with UK Steel Enterprise and Bridgend County Borough Council.

The grant is between up to £2,000 and must be match funded at a rate of 50% of the project cost. Only capital items are eligible and all sectors can be considered.

For more information about business funding and support from Bridgend County Borough Council contact the Economy Team Unit at Bridgend Council on 01656 815315 or email business@bridgend.gov.uk.

Newport City Council Discretionary Grants

Newport City Council can provide financial support for new and existing businesses to assist with the eligible costs of starting up or expansion.

Financial support takes the form of grant assistance and is available entirely at the discretion of the Newport City Council. Grant assistance will only be offered where a genuine business reason can be demonstrated.

This support is available city-wide but is targeted towards the city centre which remains a regeneration priority for the Council.

Contact Newport City’s Council’s Business Services Team to discuss any of the grants on business.services@newport.gov.uk or call 01633 656656.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Enterprise Support Funding

This flexible grant programme provides financial assistance to new or existing enterprises based in Rhondda Cynon Taf, or are planning to locate in the County Borough.

Business grants are available for full-time, existing and start-up enterprises. The grants can assist with the purchase of capital equipment (including ICT), improvement of commercial premises, development of a website and one-off marketing costs.

Grants are available for up to £10,000 based on 40% of the eligible project costs.

A minimum of one full-time equivalent job must be created by private sector businesses requesting grants up to £5000 this raises to two full-time equivalent jobs for grants up to £10,000.

For more information about business funding from Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC contact the Enterprise Support Team on 01443 495169 or email Regeneration@rctcbc.gov.uk.

Carmarthenshire Business Start-up Grant

Grants up to £41,600 (€50,000) are available to support the creation of new businesses in Carmarthenshire.

The items that are ineligible for funding are extensive and include things like e-commerce development and marketing. However, machinery, specialist software, fixtures and fittings and specialist training are all eligible areas that may be of interest to local retailers.

Again, consider how funding for these areas could free up cash in your business to invest in a target area or even generate additional savings or profit to allow you to invest directly.

Conwy Business Support Grant

Grants of £1500 are available for retailers based in Conwy to pay for a range of items and services. This funding can be used for the execution of a marketing plan, the purchase of IT equipment, training and professional fees.

Organiser:

Conwy Business Centre

Newport City Council – Business Support Fund

Grants up to £10,000 are available to businesses in the Newport City Council area to pay for a range of business activities. This can include marketing, staff training, website development, consultancy fees, property rent, equipment purchase and more.

Applicants must demonstrate that the funding will help support the creation of new jobs or protect existing jobs and enhance the local economy.

Organiser:

Newport Council

Funding available to retailers in Scotland

Scotland is unfortunately not fertile ground for funding for retailers – most of the regional funding sources specifically exclude retailers and others are so focused on innovation, renewable energy creation or STEM research that they exclude retailers by proxy.

There are a few honourable mentions for local councils that have dedicated grant programmes open to businesses of all types and especially for those with retail-specific schemes. But most of the local government funding has been centralised through Business Gateway, the Scottish regional enterprise development hub which (at the time of writing) has closed all of its SME funding schemes to ‘transition to a new funding model.’

From extensive reading on their site, most of the support on offer here is in the form of information and advice. Some grant funding may be available but this isn’t easily uncovered from their website.

Our advice would be to locate your local office and find out about funding in your area. If they do not have access to that information, speak to your local council’s business services team directly. We scoured a number of council sites for funding information but the majority refer back to Business Gateway for further advice. A few that have standalone schemes are mentioned here:

Ambition to Grow

South Ayrshire based businesses with aims to add at least one person to their payroll and to increase their sales beyond the region (for example through e-commerce?) could access grants between £500 to £5000 to cover up to 50% of qualifying project costs.

Organiser:

Ambition to Grow

Collaborate for Growth Grant

While the level of funding isn’t clear, this grant for South Ayrshire based businesses is available to groups of retailers who collaborate on a scheme to attract more business from outside the region.

This could be in marketing your local high street as a shopping district or potentially launching a combined online retail venture.

Organiser:

Ambition Programme

Retail Business Development Grant

The grant aims to support growth in Town Centres within the retail sector which can create a significant sustainable economic impact within South Ayrshire.

Grants of up to £2000 can cover up to 50% of the cost of:

  • Development of new markets including the development of the evening economy
  • Up-skilling and training of staff to improve efficiency or turnover
  • New product development
  • Ecommerce development
  • Marketing Strategy Development including Social Media
  • Brand Development/Re-Branding

Funding available to retailers in Northern Ireland

Retailers in Northern Ireland will struggle to find significant funding for their business. The majority of support comes through rates relief which is applied for directly through HMRC.

With business rates being so significant in NI, this will be welcome support for retailers but much of the government business growth funding currently goes to tech start-ups and professional services organisations.

Like Scotland, much of the funding in Northern Ireland has been invested in support for start-ups or established SMEs in the form of training, advice, mentorship and tendering opportunities. Other government funding has been invested in ‘subsidising’ approved training, much of which would be irrelevant to retailers.

Like most areas of the UK, your local council will have a dedicated business support unit and your local chamber of commerce will be an excellent resource for connecting you to any available pots of grant funding.

The website NI Business Info is an excellent resource and is regularly maintained, so should be your first port of call for finding out what support might be open to your specific business case.

Closing thoughts

In summary, there are a few national funding calls that retailers can avail of, especially if they wish to make the move online.

Digital transformation is a key objective of the UK government which wants to help retailers protect their business from the growing online competition. With government support available, the cost of web development at the lowest it has ever been and tools like AirPOS & Shopify making it easier than ever to run a multichannel retail operation, now is the time to invest in the future of your business.

We’d recommend speaking to a business advisor in any of the regional business support organisations but also your local council’s business support unit, your local chamber of commerce and your local representative body or professional membership organisation (such as the British Retail Consortium).

Outside of that, your number one source of capital for investment will be your own revenue and we have a few articles on the site on how retailers can increase their profitability.

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