Innovative plans to help new businesses get off the ground and give existing businesses a chance to try out new ideas have been unveiled by Dover District Council and regeneration organisation Dover Big Local.
DDC recently acquired the former Co-op store at Stembrook to boost town centre regeneration and is now working on plans with Dover Big Local to turn it into a complex of starter spaces where businesses can test the market for their products before moving to more permanent premises.
These 'incubator' spaces will be available to rent via Dover Big Local for up to 12 months, enabling fledgling businesses to prove their viability. They offer a stepping stone to acquiring permanent premises in other parts of the town centre if their businesses prove a success. There will also be a cost-effective co-working space available for shorter durations from an hour upwards, as well as meeting rooms and a training space.
DDC bought the former Co-op in April and, subject to successfully negotiating leasing arrangements with Dover Big Local, will agree a work programme to carry out the necessary conversions.
The building sits close to the new £53 million St James’ retail park, providing an important link to the Old Town and is expected to help create additional footfall between the two locations.
The old store’s units will be ideally sized to incubate a brand new business, or perhaps nurture an existing one from being a home based operation.
Council leader Cllr Keith Morris said: "This revitalised building will enable small businesses to try out their ideas and gives them a transition point from being a home based operation to having a full presence on our high street. It underpins the council’s strategy to help build a thriving and attractive town centre.
"This represents a vital step forward in our ongoing investment to rejuvenate the centre of Dover. The building is ideally placed between the St James retail park and the Old Town area for small businesses to benefit.
"It is a bold and imaginative scheme which will further enhance the shopping experience for Dover’s residents and visitors. We want to attract a good variety of independent businesses to enrich the town’s retail offer."
Ross Miller, Chairman of Dover Big Local, said: "The overall objective, of both Dover Big Local and Dover District Council, for the Innovation Warehouse is to deliver a wide range of support and facilities aimed at helping people into paid work, whether that is employment, self-employment or through setting up their own business.
"There is strong evidence that businesses that start in incubator spaces have a significantly greater chance of long term success. We aim to further reduce the risks that starter businesses face through providing expert support, mentoring and access to training to help them develop and grow.
"We are particularly looking to promote social entrepreneurship in order to make a long lasting positive impact for our community and address many of the issues we are facing today and in the future."
The short-term proposal for the former Co-op building will be considered by DDC’s Cabinet at its meeting on 2 July.