STAYING in close touch with local businesses has been a priority for me over these last 15 months of the pandemic.

It was vital that I knew how they were doing as they faced the challenges posed by the disruption caused by Covid-19.

I wanted to know how the Government support measures were working on the ground and, looking to the future, how businesses could be best supported as we have emerged from the difficulties we have all faced.

First and foremost, I’ve wanted to provide the environment to encourage businesses to grow and create the jobs we need, particularly for our young people who have been hardest hit.

Visiting and speaking to a wide range of business owners, I’ve been hugely impressed by their resourcefulness, adaptability and commitment to their enterprises and the steps they are taking to seize opportunities as the economy continues its recovery.

Nowhere is that indomitable spirit more in evidence than in the Dales where businesses have to overcome the additional challenge of geographical isolation.

Businesses like the reduced-sugar jam maker Fearne and Rosie, a great enterprise established in Hawes just three years ago and inspired by Rachel Kettlewell’s desire to give her three young children healthier food.

Assisted by bright and inventive branding, Fearne and Rosie has taken off and is already available nationwide, stocked by Waitrose, the online food delivery business Ocado and Yorkshire branches of Morrisons.

And this week, Rachel’s appearance on BBC TV Dragons’ Den resulted in a sizeable investment from the Dragon Tej Lalvani. Congratulations to Rachel who is now in a great position to expand her team and grow her business.

Over the hill in Swaledale, the appropriately named Spirit of Swaledale run by Ian Purves is achieving great things with its range of gins and rum, distilled in an old farm building adjacent to his home between Muker and Keld using local spring water and flavoured with botanicals inspired by the plants of upper Swaledale.

Like other local gin makers, Ian turned his hand to making hand sanitiser at the beginning of the pandemic, but has also seen his online sales grow during lockdown. Now his sales to retailers and hospitality businesses are coming back again as the economy picks up.

He’s investing in his business with a purchase of a beautifully-branded Spirit of Swaledale van which you may see making deliveries around the Dales and further afield in the coming months.

Congratulations also to Ian for his recent success in the London Spirits Competition where his Moorland Gin and Old Gang Rum won Silver Medals up against spirits from around the world.

I’ve visited so many other local businesses in different sectors who are demonstrating confidence in the future. Like KNW Training expanding their Bedale-based operation, like Sterling GP in Stokesley taking on more staff including apprentices for their heavy vehicle bodywork business, and Mocha, the Richmond chocolate maker setting up a dedicated production unit at Aske Hall.

I’m very thankful for the positivity of all these businesses – and many more besides – who are working so hard to re-build and grow.