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East Anglia Future 50

'We're stronger together in these challenging times' - Business chambers in two towns join forces to become one

PUBLISHED: 07:50 07 December 2018

Tina Townsend with her local MP Priti Patel

Tina Townsend with her local MP Priti Patel

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A chamber of commerce in Essex which turns 80 next year is merging together with its neighbouring town's chamber.

Witham Chamber is joining forces with its counterpart in Coggeshall, a town just five minutes down the road.

Witham is on the train line to London and has a sizeable population of commuters, but also boasts several restaurants and a high street of shops.

Coggeshall on the other hand is ‘a town with a village mentality’, holding a weekly market and boasting almost 300 listed buildings.

Witham Chamber’s chair, Tina Townsend, explained that in her native town, she had worked hard lately to boost membership, which has consequently shot up from 12 to 160 confirmed members in 18 months.

“We did lots of work with rebranding, updating the website, offering advice on health and safety and business support,” she explained. “We also do a lot of work with Witham MP Priti Patel, because I know her well.

“Helen Ellis Jones, who runs Cogeshall Chamber, joked ‘could we please bottle what we were doing in Witham, and bring it to Coggeshall?’ We realised that actually, that could be an idea. Coggeshall Chamber had 30 to 40 names, and had fallen by the wayside. It was focused quite heavily on one event a year - Coggeshall Christmas. In Witham, we support local events like Christmas markets, but that’s not our focus.

“So we are joining forces, and their chamber will come under our umbrella - I will chair Witham and Cogelshall Chamber.

“As long as we are supporting each other,why can’t we get more local businesses working together?”

Ms Townsend describes the current business climate as “difficult”, because of Brexit. “People are confused about what the future has in store, the whole country is on tenterhooks.”

Ms Townsend claims that in Witham, like most towns, the retail sector is faltering - “but the service industry - especially hairdressers and nail bars - is thriving,” she says. “Coggeshall is a tricky town to do business in, but it’s holding its own. People there tend to buy from each other rather than from businesses. But they have wonderful niche businesses, it’s vibrant.”

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