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East Midlands Chamber News

Dawn Edwards reflects on a year like no other as 2020 East Midlands Chamber president

As she hands over the chains of office to Eileen Richards MBE, Dawn Edwards reflects on a topsy-turvy year as president of East Midlands Chamber.

The best laid plans…

So here it is, my actual “Last Word”. 

When asked to write this piece and reflect upon the past year, my initial thoughts were that it had been to a large extent overtaken by the pandemic and the priorities I’d set out had therefore taken a back seat.  

In reality, however, progress has still been made, albeit not necessarily in the same way as planned, which I’m sure many people will relate to. 

When I took the role of president last year, one of the things I was most looking forward to was hosting my own events and addressing the business community at the Chamber’s large-scale events.

March, as we all know, brought a few surprises to all of us and, with my speech written, the annual dinner that was planned to be held at Colwick Hall (a venue very close to my heart, and my home), was unavoidably postponed.

The face-to-face events since then have obviously not been possible – but rather than be disappointed, I count myself as truly fortunate.

Life goes on

To have been given a platform and a voice, when it is needed most by business, has been both an honour and a privilege. The events team has been wonderful in adapting, such as with the fantastically successful virtual Business Awards.

There have been more than a few highlights, and very memorable times during my year as president. For instance:

The Leicester Lunch, held at the Athena last December, and Celebrating East Midlands Culture and Communities, held at the King Power Stadium in February, were two events I shall never forget. The first was marked by meeting the Lord Lieutenant of Leicester, Rt Hon Mike Kapur OBE, who surprised me by agreeing to swap his hat for mine (his a rather smart ceremonial military hat, for my very own Santa Hat) for a photograph. The latter featured an electric atmosphere and vibrant performances that showcased the rich tapestry of cultures in our region.

Dawn Edwards and Mike Kapur OBE at the Chamber's Christmas lunch in 2019

There have, too, been roundtable discussions and president’s dinners at which patrons, strategic partners and members attended to discuss topical issues – not least, of course, Brexit. While this took a back seat for a while, the next few months will see it return to centre stage with certainty required for business.

While lockdown was neither welcome or expected, it did bring some advantages. One of these was the usual geographic boundaries evaporated and meant the Chamber’s reach was extended, with opportunities to meet business leaders, MPs and others with the ability to listen and influence.

Reflections and learnings

The areas I set out when I became president were as follows:

  • To drive the skills agenda and encourage start-up and enterprise. The Chamber, in conjunction with the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, has offered an amazing array of webinars to support businesses and potential start-ups. Personally, I had great fun designing and delivering the Grit and Grace webinars aimed at existing and aspiring women in business. I requested the help of successful female leaders throughout the three counties, and was left in awe by their talent and generosity – each one with a unique story, and prepared to give their own hints and tips to help others climbing the ladder in business. Generation Next was also launched to identify and engage the leaders of the future. I’m sure it’ll grow and develop in the very capable hands of director of resources Lucy Robinson.

  • To make the procurement process more accessible to SMEs and ensure they’re able to compete to win work. A trip to Westminster last year after a huge amount of work by Chris Hobson and Scott Knowles meant the Government committed to ensuring a third of contract spending goes to small and medium-sized firms.  This work has been followed this year by tender-writing workshops and information sessions on larger contract opportunities, such as HS2.

 

  • To create an even more inclusive Chamber, where we listen to the needs of our members, of whatever size, make-up or sector, and to drive inward investment to the East Midlands. The pandemic has, in many ways, ensured this particular aim has been fulfilled. The business advisers and wider Chamber team have worked tirelessly with other organisations and local authorities to ensure those who need information and support have been able to access it.

 

  • To bring together businesses and communities to enhance the environment in which we all live and work. The past few months have showcased what can be done when we all work together and there have been examples everywhere of generosity and resilience, which has been truly humbling.

Reflecting on the past year is a reminder of what can be overcome if we work together. Alliances, partnerships and collaborations have been forged in the most unlikely of places, through the most unlikely of circumstances, and present a real opportunity for the future. 

I’ll be handing over the chains of office to one of the most capable and inspiring people I know, Eileen Richards, who will work tirelessly alongside the other brilliant board members to ensure the voice of business within the East Midlands is heard.

Before I sign off, I thought I would share one of my favourite quotes, by John Maxwell, and dedicate it – on behalf of the whole Chamber team – to Scott Knowles: “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change.  The leader adjusts the sails.”

Thank you, Scott, for steering the ship, your unfaltering support, advice and guidance – and to each and every person who has given their time, energy and expertise to help along the way.  

 

This article appears in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of the Chamber's Business Network magazine. To read the online edition, click here.

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