I had the pleasure last week to attend two local business networking groups, each providing an opportunity for local business owners to get together, but also a forum for sharing helpful information.

The Business East Hants group was relaunched last year by East Hampshire District Council, and now has more than 1,000 members on its directory. These range from well-established enterprises through to smaller start-ups, and covers a wide array of sectors – from hospitality to construction, from retail to farming.

What brings them together is the opportunity to build connections, to learn from each others’ experiences and to find out more about how businesses can be supported here in East Hampshire.

This particular meeting was focused on developing more sustainable business operations and a chance for the new Green Team at EHDC to explain more about their sustainability strategy, and the newly-launched Community Climate Action Fund.

With grants of up to £25,000 available for local projects tackling climate change, the fund is an important way to mobilise local efforts to decarbonise, which we know is a key part of achieving our national net zero targets.

With many immediate and pressing issues to manage each day, I know it is often difficult for business owners to make time for these types of forums, but I think they are an invaluable way to connect with others and to consider some of the broader challenges facing businesses today.

The Business East Hants website provides free access to a directory of members, and a host of information relevant to local businesses, so I would certainly encourage anyone running a local enterprise to think about signing up for the free service.

I also had the opportunity to meet with members of the SiGNAL business hub in Bordon, an organisation set up in 2017 to offer a range of workspaces and a business community that is both dynamic and supportive.

With more than 60 members, SiGNAL has a key role to play within the overall regeneration of the town, and it continues to expand its operation across new sites.

Helping start-ups and micro businesses find their feet and supporting them with a range of business services, I have no doubt SiGNAL will continue to thrive and deliver on its motto that ‘no-one should build a business alone’.

Setting up a new business is exciting but it can also be lonely and stressful. The early days are seldom straightforward and there are also many other moments when advice and support from others can make a real difference.

The UK economy relies on the enterprise and ingenuity of small businesses, and helping those grow and flourish is vital to encourage the entrepreneurship and risk taking that starting out requires.

The government’s Help to Grow schemes are another way to secure support, with one offering a 90 per cent-funded, 12-week management course, and another with free access to impartial online support on how digital technology can boost business performance.

And Enterprise M3 is a key local organisation that can help people starting out with a new business idea, or indeed one that is looking to grow.

Their Net Zero Support Service also offers tailored advice in areas such as sustainability, net zero and carbon footprint calculations.

There are many other informal networking groups local to East Hampshire, including First Friday Petersfield and the Business Growth Network among others, and I would certainly encourage anyone running a business locally to seek out these groups, to make connections and explore the opportunities they offer.