Image source, SOSE

After years of fighting for it, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) could hardly have started at a worse time.

It was officially launched on 1 April 2020 – just days after the Covid pandemic reached the UK.

Closing in on three years in existence, chief executive Jane Morrison-Ross said she was “incredibly proud” of how things had gone.

But what impact has it had on the area it serves – Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders?

“We’ve been trying to build our foundations as we go, which is always difficult, but during the first year there was no time and no capacity to do the normal things,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

She said that, in many ways, it meant SOSE was still like a start-up organisation.

Nonetheless, she said it was felt it had made a significant impact across southern Scotland.

“It’s not all about the amount of grant or loan funding because some of the smaller amounts make an absolutely transformational difference,” she said.

“Some of the things I think that we, as a team, are most proud about or see the greatest impact from are things like the investment at Kirkhope Steading.”

Working with the Ettrick and Yarrow Community Development Company SOSE has turned the building into homes and business workshops.

“Something like that brings new families into a community that is worried about depopulation,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

“It brings new jobs in, it brings new start-ups and then it brings new children into the primary school.”

Image source, Hilltop Leaf

Among the other initiatives supported have been:

Carbon Capture Scotland – a Crocketford company aiming to create up to 500 jobsHilltop Leaf – the medicinal cannabis firm in Dumfries and GallowayVR-EP – a Galashiels-based business developing a virtual reality device to provide a better understanding of dementiaBubblefo – creating equipment to help children with respiratory and chronic chest conditions

There have been regrets too.

“We obviously came out of Covid and went straight into the cost-of-living crisis, energy crisis, impacts of changes to international import-export laws and everything else and that’s been really difficult,” said Ms Morrison-Ross.

“There are businesses that we’ve lost across the south of Scotland because we couldn’t step in with the kind of support that was needed to help them through six months of energy bills that increased, in some cases, several hundred per cent.

“That’s frustrating, you know. To try and support all 11,000 plus businesses in the south, it would have taken unprecedented levels of support.

“It’s awful to see businesses that are a key part of the supply chain struggle and, in some cases, close.”

Image source, Alpha Solway

There was also a £4.8m investment in PPE firm Alpha Solway which did not end up as hoped with the company ultimately closing one of its Dumfries plants.

“I think investments like that are difficult,” Ms Morrison-Ross admitted.

“There’s no right answer – if we hadn’t made the initial investment, then there wouldn’t have been the the supply, the capacity there to be able to meet the PPE challenges during Covid.

“And, although it’s not the outcome we would have wanted, Alpha Solway played a huge part in meeting the challenges during Covid of keeping people safe and supplying that PPE.”

‘Brilliant team’

It is a learning process which is still ongoing.

“I think sometimes you have to take a small risk to make the right decisions,” she said.

“We’re not going to be right every time, but we are going to learn as we go.”

And what would she say to companies who might think of SOSE as a closed shop or an organisation that was not for them?

“I usually just say give us a call, speak to us,” she said.

“We do have a brilliant team right across the south and we’ve got people with expertise in almost every area area you can think of.

“You’ve got nothing to lose. Just give us a phone and we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

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