CLA regional adviser Katy Anderson explains how to make the most of grant funding and boost your rural business
The world of funding can seem like a complicated maze of acronyms, lengthy forms and endless guidance, rules and regulations. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of acronyms and you do have to fill in a form or two, but coming out the other side successful applicants are given thousands of pounds of grant funding to support fantastic projects.
Knowing where to start can be the trickiest part. If you’re looking down the diversification or rural tourism route then you will need to be looking at LEADER and the Growth Programme where funding is available to support a huge range of projects. Looking back at what has already been funded we have seen wedding venues, wakeboarding centres, safari lodges, glamping sites and B&Bs, and these are just a few examples of the huge range of successful applications.
LEADER is a scheme aimed at supporting micro or small rural businesses, farmers, foresters and rural community groups. The scheme has six priorities, including support for rural tourism and farm diversification.
Grants start at £2,500 and can go up to around £170,000, although this does vary across the country. This can cover up to 40% of the total eligible project costs and primarily covers capital items such as equipment, building works or renovations. The other 60% of the costs must be covered by private match funding – for example through savings or loans.
Not all areas are covered by LEADER funding. England has been split into 80 groups defined by the character, as opposed to traditional administrative boundaries. These groups only cover rural areas, and therefore if you are too close to a town or city you may be ineligible. There are also some, limited, areas across the country which are rural but are not covered by a group. This is for various, mainly administrative reasons, but the important thing is to start by checking you are covered by the scheme. The best way to do this is to call the Rural Payments Agency on 03000 200 301 and go through to the Rural Development Programme department.
Job creation is a key aspect of LEADER funding and you need to be looking to create one full time equivalent job (30 hours per week) for every £25,000-£30,000 of grant funding. This can however be split between multiple jobs, and include hours that you or someone in your family would be working in the business.
LEADER is an EU grant scheme, however while we remain a member of the EU the grants remain open to us and our message is ‘go out and get it’. The deadline for applications varies across the country, with some groups asking for completed applications by the summer of 2018, while others are stretching out into the late autumn. If you are considering a project, but don’t feel you are quite at the point of applying for funding, it is certainly worth having a chat with the local programme manager, who administers your local group, to make sure you are on the contact list for news and updates.
Where LEADER is administered at a very local level, the Growth Programme is administered at a county or multi-county level through the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
There are three grant funding schemes under the Growth Programme – Food Processing, Business Development, and Tourism Infrastructure. Each LEP will have different priorities and not all will have put funding into all three schemes so it’s worth checking which schemes you can access in your local area.
The size of the grants available is also determined by your local LEP but the minimum grant size you will see through the Growth Programme is £35,000. With Business Development and Tourism Infrastructure the maximum grant is around £170,000, however the Food Processing scheme can provide up to £1million – or even higher!
Again this can cover 40% of your total eligible project costs, and the other 60% must be covered by private match funding. You cannot apply for both LEADER and the Growth Programme to help fund a single project.
Finally, like LEADER, the Growth Programme is an EU grant scheme and the deadline for the Expression of Interest applications across the country is 31 May 2018 so time is tight. The guidance documents, along with the Expression of Interest form, are available on the gov.uk website.
Thinking outside the box
You could also consider schemes to boost your tourism offer – for example woodland management schemes.
There are a number of different programmes through the Countryside Stewardship scheme to support the creation and management of woodland. These schemes can help you to manage existing woodland for the benefit of local wildlife, plant new woodland across a minimum area of three hectares, or improve woodland as part of a wider environmental scheme across your land.
The main aim of these programmes is to improve the woodland habitat for wildlife but it’s worth bearing in mind that these are multi-annual agreements that require you to manage the land in a certain way for 10 years or more.
Deadlines for some of the programmes are tight – with some programmes closing in early February 2018, while other programmes have deadlines later in the year. Again this is an EU grant scheme and it isn’t clear if or when these programmes will reopen in 2019. The CLA can keep you up-to-date and let you know when new opportunities arise.
For smaller areas of planting, the Woodland Trust may be able to help. The Trust sells various tree packs but also offers one-off grants for planting new small woodlands. This can cover 60% of the cost of the trees and appropriate protection, and will also include advice on what species to plant on your site and how to manage them.
If you intend to apply for grant funding you will also need to consider the implications of any planning permissions needed such as change of use, third party agreements and taxation when looking at diversifying.
My advice would be, if you are thinking about setting up a new business, expanding an existing business or even just considering purchasing a new piece of equipment then have a look into the grant funding that is available. There could be a significant amount of money just waiting to be invested in your rural business. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katy Anderson is a regional adviser for the CLA. The membership organisation represents more than 30,000 farmers, landowners and rural businesses and advises on planning, third party agreements, taxation and more. For information on funding avenues and more, visit www.cla.org.uk