How Forum zoomed in on keeping businesses together during Lockdowns

Torbay Weekly

What a strange and challenging year it has been for many. Zoom seems to have taken over the world. 10million worldwide users in December 2019 increased to over 300 million users by June 2020. Zooming became a common phrase in people’s lives both professionally and personally.

Resilience become the new buzz word as businesses adapted to the change.

And that included the Torbay Business Forum.

The aim of the Forum,  a local voluntary organisation, is ‘Bringing Businesses Together’ which proved a tricky prospect with the Covid pandemic swirling around. Building relationships and that face-to-face networking, which is so crucial to many businesses, had to be put on the back burner during the three lockdowns in 2020.

So how could  the Forum bridge the pandemic gap, keep talking to business and be the voice for business especially at the most challenging of times?

TBF Chair Steve Reynolds said: “We still wanted to bring people together even though we couldn’t meet in person, so we replaced our monthly face to face breakfast meetings with a fortnightly ‘Breakfast Bytes’ webinar – inviting guests from all over the region to keep people updated with local news.”

Since the first Bytes in April last year, 19 Bytes webinars have taken place with a massive 62 panellists covering a wide range of topics including tourism, food and drink, hotels developments, apprenticeships, charities, accountants, HR, theatres, football clubs and zoos.

All of the Bytes are recorded by producer, Emily Tucker, Head of Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement at South Devon College - and then put on the TBF website – – for people to catch up if they have missed the main event.

Regular listener, Debbie Phillips, a local business owner, said: “I highly recommend watching Torbay Breakfast Bytes – they always attract really interesting speakers.”

The other important development this year for the Forum, has been forming closer links with other business organisations, in particular the three local Chambers of Commerce in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.

With the help of Dean Kelly from Paignton Chamber, a regular monthly networking Zoom now takes place on the third Tuesday of each month from 4pm to 5pm. Named Torbay Business and Chambers Network, it is designed specifically for businesses to network with each other.

Dean manages the breakout groups so that smaller groups of people can then talk about their own business and any issues before returning to the wider group.

The TBF Executive still meet up via Zoom every month to catch up on local news and initiate any collaboration and co-operation required to help strengthen the local economy - focusing on four key themes of Business Growth, Planning and Developments, Skills and Infrastructure.

Steve said: "‘We have had amazing support from our sponsors which has helped the forum during the pandemic. Put simply, without our 22 Business Sponsors, Gold, Silver and Bronze, we couldn’t hold these events.

"I would like to personally thank our six Gold sponsors - Accounting4 Everything, Big Wave Marketing, Cavanna Homes, South Devon College, Torbay Weekly and Wollens.

"Our Silver sponsors – so thanks to Absolute, Andrew Price, Astrality Business Services, Barclays, Bishop Fleming, Conroy Couch, Edmundson Electrical, Gallagher, Hessian Company, Insignia Creative, SSG, Susan’s Flower Shop and the TDA. And finally, the Bronze sponsors; Donna Wynne VA, enlightenHR and Leigh Extence – Fine Antique Clocks."

Steve added: "As you can see from the ‘roll call’, we try and bring together businesses, large and small and we are immensely grateful to them all."

Forum vice-chairman Angela George said: "The Forum is there for all businesses and we have nearly 1,400 Facebook followers and 942 Page Likes together with over 600 Linkedin followers. People can also register for our regular e-shots on the TBF website to keep updated with the events and news, so please click on and join us. Together we are stronger.”