IT can be tough and lonely at the top.

For many in business the challenges have been immense in the past 12 months, running a business during the pandemic, staff working remotely or on furlough, cash flow and working around ever-changing Covid restrictions.

Now there is additional support across the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership region.

Last month the government announced a £56m funding boost to drive up productivity across the UK economy. It was a package of measures designed to help businesses, in particular SMEs, to recover from the impact of the pandemic, increase their profitability and the use of technology within their businesses.

Over half of the recent funding has been focused on enhancing the provision of leadership skills and good management practices training for SME business leaders and on expanding the support available for small business leaders via peer-based advice and support networks.

The importance of recognised peer support networks and mentors for business leaders has grown and developed in recent years, and in 2020 these groups have been invaluable to their members.

Poole-based Evolve is a community of business leaders, founders and entrepreneurs who all understand the benefits that leadership training, coaching, mentoring and peer support can bring to them as individuals, but also to their businesses.

Since the business was launched in 2019 Evolve has welcomed over 400 business leaders to its regular peer networking, webinars, business festival, coaching and workshop sessions.

Evolve was appointed as one of the delivery partners for three new peer groups, as part of the national Peer Networks programme, in response to the government’s Business Productivity Review and to help businesses to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Funded locally by Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the peer groups, which are being run virtually, include regular group sessions and one-to-one coaching for business leaders and senior managers across the region.

As part of the government’s latest funding announcement, Evolve has also been appointed to deliver five further peer networks, supporting business leaders across both the Solent and Dorset LEP regions.

Evolve founder Warren Munson, said: “It’s very encouraging to see that the government’s Business Productivity Review recognises peer networks as a key element in driving growth for SME businesses, not only now, but for the future.

“This year more than ever, business leaders have needed the support of one another in dealing with the challenges presented by Covid, which for many has been one of the toughest times they’ve faced in their careers.

“With funding secured through the LEPs for the additional peer groups, I would really encourage any local business leader in the Solent or Dorset region to take advantage of the opportunity and to join a group for free.”

Director at LMA Architects in Bournemouth, Simon Dilawershah added: “Being part of a peer network has been hugely important on my journey as a business owner, not only on a professional level, but also a personal one.

"The knowledge and experience of others in the group who provide great insight of their experiences, who are all at different stages of their journeys, play a very important part in the development of everyone involved.”

Applications are now open to join the fully-funded virtual peer networks in the Solent and Dorset LEP region, which will start early in 2021.