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Church Stretton is a small market town in the heart of the Shropshire Hills, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism. As elsewhere, its shopping centre faces a challenge from the growth of on-line shopping. With improving broadband connectivity, there are opportunities for both new and expanding businesses. Church Stretton Town Council wants to be more proactive in supporting local businesses, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, helping them to adapt to the new technologies and, where possible, to grow more local employment opportunities, especially for its young people.

The Council approached Chester Business School about a possible joint project, using business students to conduct a survey of local business to identify the kinds of assistance they would most welcome, whether it be in training, networking, expanding employment space or further broadband improvement.

A group of the University’s business students has joined the project to carry out research, collect data and produce a report to help the town council in its decision-making process. The group will develop a business survey to interview a representative sample of small to medium-sized businesses in order to develop a profile of the companies in the area and identify how they can be best supported by the Town Council and other organisations.

As described in the Church Stretton Market Town Profile 2017/18 on the Shropshire Council website, there are 287 registered businesses, the great majority of which are small to medium-sized, mostly commercial with some light industrial firms. These businesses employ 1,300 (60% full-time and 40% part-time) but only 26% of these employees live in the town. In general, many residents commute out of town to higher paid professional and managerial employment and lower paid staff commute in from elsewhere, largely because of the high cost of housing in this sought-after area.

The students are working closely with Danny Chetwood, the Town Council Clerk and Councillor Bob Welch, Chair of the Economic Development Committee on Church Stretton Town Council.

Cllr Bob Welch said: “We hope very much that this will be a win-win situation, equipping the Council with much-needed intelligence as a basis for its decision-making at the same time as giving students direct experience of the challenges businesses face in the changing economy of a small market town.”

Dr Ian Pownall, Programme Leader in Business Management at Chester Business School, said: "The collaboration between the Business School and Church Stretton Council is a great live project that supports students acquiring and developing real world business skills as they engage with small business owners and learn of their particular needs."

Dr Trevor Omoruyi from the University’s Business School added: “This is a welcome development that is mutually beneficial to all stakeholders. Here, our students are providing business research solutions to individuals, small businesses and the local council. It is an opportunity for our students to develop their skills and experience that tie with our Business School mantra of ‘Real Business. Future Skills’.”

Student Jessica Kelly, said: “This project gives us the opportunity to learn about the variety of issues faced by a range of businesses in this small market town. We were told that its traditional shopping centre is heavily dependent on tourism and is having to adapt to an increasingly cashless society. Improving broadband connectivity in this scenic setting makes it attractive to creative digital businesses to re-locate to this area. We want to help the Town Council to understand better the issues facing these businesses, old and new.”

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