Call for rural businesses to support initiative to channel consumer spending into rural towns and villages

Simon Yearsley & Jane Saba co-founders of The Scottish Deli

RURAL business owners are being asked to support a revamped initiative designed to channel consumer spending into rural and island towns and villages.

The REDS (Rural Enterprise Directory Scotland) Rural Gift Card was launched in 2020 by GrowBiz, Scotland’s rural enterprise agency. A 2021 update to the scheme means all rural businesses with a turnover under £500,000 can now be listed on the directory, and be part of the REDS Gift Card, free of charge.

The REDS Gift Card is part of Miconex’s Town and City Gift Cards scheme, active in over 17 locations in Scotland. Each REDS Gift Card can be spent with over 150 rural and island businesses. Andy Lambert, Enterprise Facilitator at GrowBiz said there are numerous benefits for a rural business in being listed on the directory and receiving the REDS Rural Gift Card as payment:

“This is the second year for REDS. GrowBiz has supported more than 2000 rural and island businesses, and REDS helps to ‘put them on the map’, making it easy for consumers to find and buy from rural enterprises, especially with the introduction of the REDS Gift Card. But being a part of REDS is about more than sales; it is becoming part of the collective voice of the rural community. The more rural businesses join us, the stronger our movement, and the better conversations we can have with policy makers. REDS is a place for leaders to see the tangible representation of the rural community. It is our mission to ensure that issues relevant to rural and island communities are firmly on the economic agenda.”

A fifth of Scotland’s population lives in rural areas, and economic activity across the country’s non-urban areas accounts for approximately one third of Scotland’s overall economy annually. 68% of the workforce in remote rural, and 54% in accessible rural, Scotland work for small businesses, compared to 32% in the rest of Scotland. 9 out of 10 rural businesses are classed as ‘micro’, with fewer than 10 employees.

Simon Yearsley, co-owner of The Scottish Deli, is part of the REDS Gift Card and says that it is vital for rural businesses to support each other to ensure the continuation of rural communities:

“Unless we want to have our lives run by Amazon, Tesco and click and collect, we have to stand together as rural businesses. There is a massive volume of rural businesses out there, from shops and artists to childcare provision and cafés. All businesses operating in a rural context are making a difference, supporting the area and creating a destination. By being part of REDS, we can shine a light on what is available locally, connect with other business owners and share ideas and, crucially, reach a critical mass of attraction for the REDS Rural Gift Card. The more opportunities customers have to spend a REDS Rural Gift Card, the more popular it becomes, which is beneficial for all rural businesses.”

Located in Dunkeld, Highland Perthshire, Simon opened The Scottish Deli in 2015 alongside wife Sarah and business partner Jane:

“During the day, The Scottish Deli is a specialist food shop with a focus on local produce like cheese, jams, pickles, crackers and gin, showcasing the best of what Scotland has to offer. We’re also well-known for our gourmet sandwiches, and are really proud to have won a clutch of awards for our produce, such as Best Scottish Independent Retailer. In the evenings, we turn into a 30 cover tapas restaurant with a carefully thought through 80-90 bottle wine collection. When we took over the business, we always wanted to have a restaurant and it was my wife who came up with the idea of Scottish tapas. Diners sit next to the cheeses, and the wines and it’s a really nice atmosphere. Most nights we are fully booked.

“17 months ago though, when the pandemic started, our world turned upside down. Rural economies have a high visitor dependency and when that dropped out, rural businesses like ours suffered. We had to change our business objective, from trying to make a little bit of money to becoming part of the food solution in Dunkeld and keeping staff alive. That might sound dramatic, but we employ 30 people in the summer months and we did all we could to look after our staff and avoid redundancies. We were also fortunate to receive government support, being both a retail and hospitality business.

“We stayed open the whole time with a somewhat pared back offering and focused on what we’re good at, linking into existing delivery systems in Dunkeld. Businesses that stayed open during the pandemic received massive plaudits. Most people realise that if we don’t support local, rural enterprises, then it will signal the death knell for rural communities and market towns. We’re coming out of covid with a pleased sigh that we made it.”

Kate Blake, set up the Hebridean Design Company in 2015 with her husband Doug after moving to Harris in the Outer Hebrides from Newcastle Upon Tyne and noticing a gap in the market for crafts created on the island:

“I was a nurse before we moved to Harris, and my husband was an engineer. We first visited Harris over 20 years ago because we wanted a holiday where we could bring the dog, we then bought a house here and got to know everyone. After many years of waiting for the perfect moment to move to Harris, we finally took the plunge 6 years ago. Using Doug’s expertise in engineering, we set up the embroidery side of the business, and through the success of the embroidery, we were able to invest in the glass side. A derelict barn was converted to become our gallery, and Doug also runs workshops.

“As with everyone, we didn’t expect a pandemic or for it to go on for as long as it has. Luckily, we have very loyal customers. We pushed on with the digital side of the business and created new ranges. Harris is so special, and my focus during the pandemic has been helping people who couldn’t visit to maintain their connection to the island, such as giving people the chance to receive a postcard from Harris.

“It is incredibly important to support rural businesses, which is why I think the REDS Gift Card is such a good idea. We first heard about the REDS Card when a potential customer asked if we accept the REDS Card. We joined the scheme, and now accept the REDS Card in the gallery, but also online. But as well as consumers supporting rural businesses, rural businesses need to support each other, sharing knowledge so we can improve. People are so used to shopping online now, and unless we move with the times, small businesses will disappear.”

A business born from the pandemic is the Mull and Iona Shop, started by Joe McFadden and his wife Chloe in 2020:

“The Isle of Mull and the Isle of Iona are both very seasonal, tending to have lots of tourists in the summer and turning quieter in the winter. When I saw how quiet it was in 2020, I was inspired to make a marketplace for local creators to showcase their products, from Tobermory Whisky oak cask pens to artisan chocolates, jewellery, calendars and t-shirts. It inspired people who live on the islands, even those who had never sold their items before, to start creating and have the opportunity to make a bit of extra money. Our creators have been really successful.

“There are around 3000 people on the Isle of Mull, you don’t know everyone but you tend to know most people. The community has pulled together, and there has been a real sense of trying to support small, local businesses. At Christmas, one of our most popular items were hand painted Christmas decorations, as locals bought their decorations from the island instead of elsewhere. We joined the REDS Rural Gift Card after seeing something on social media, as it ties in well with what we’re trying to achieve and makes it easy for people to shop locally.”

Colin Munro is the managing director of Miconex and says the REDS Gift Card is a unique programme: “The strong sense of community means that small towns can have incredibly successful gift card programmes, and the REDS Gift Card builds on this by gathering together many small rural and island communities from right across Scotland into one larger rural community, creating an extremely attractive customer proposition. As the retail, leisure, tourism and business landscape continues to evolve, rural communities have the opportunity to become part of this exciting, powerful movement to preserve and protect rural and island businesses.”

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