Rural business owners are being left behind, despite the government’s high-profile ‘levelling-up’ campaign.
However, marketplace lending platform Folk2Folk has been fighting back by addressing the significant funding gap that faces small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based outside of London and other large conurbations. Yet challenges remain.
Roy Warren, managing director of Folk2Folk, says that despite the staycation boom, the race for space and the need to level up, most banks and alternative funders still don’t fully understand the needs and values of rural businesses.
“In effect, rural businesses are discriminated against compared to their urban counterparts,” he says.
“Simply put there are invisible barriers to finance for small businesses in the regions. I think the UK can have a rural renaissance but first we need to level the playing field.
“Our answer to this is to fund it ourselves, by incentivising investment and creating a circular economy.”
That is exactly what Folk2Folk has been doing since the company was founded in a small market town in Cornwall in 2013.
Since then, the brand has grown nationally to deliver more than £500m of investment into regional small businesses since inception. Folk2Folk was founded during a time when the nation was still reeling from the global financial crisis, banks were withdrawing from many rural areas, funding for businesses was drying up, and savers were receiving rock-bottom levels of interest.
“Early on we realised this problem wasn’t limited to the rural communities and economies of Cornwall but was an issue for rural regions nationally,” says Warren.
“For nine years now, Folk2Folk has been working to facilitate the flow of capital into the rural regions of the UK; ensuring our countryside is a viable place to live and work and has the same opportunities to access finance as its urban counterparts.
“More recently, the plight of these underserved markets within our regions has been highlighted nationally by the levelling up agenda, and as a result more funders are following Folk2Folk’s lead and looking beyond London.”
A recent analysis by Peer2Peer Finance News of 36H Group data found that the three largest P2P lenders in the UK are now all based outside of London, emphasising the huge opportunities for lenders and borrowers beyond the capital city.
“As a rural business ourselves, we are the living embodiment of the change we are trying to affect,” adds Warren.
“We are a funding and investment mechanism that enables folks to live and work in the regional areas of the UK. The injection of investment into rural businesses and local economies creates jobs and opportunities, stemming the tide of talent and money that traditionally floods out to the cities.”
Although Folk2Folk is based in Cornwall, it is very much a UK business, with staff located in regional areas across the country. Warren says that geographical diversity is very important to the business, and he is committed to supporting all regions of the UK.
“Folk2Folk’s purpose is to help create and sustain financially and socially successful local and regional economies,” he says.
“The transactions between our borrowers and investors have an impact that is felt far beyond their relationship via our online platform. A happy by-product of our lending is a form of trickledown economics which often has a wider human benefit which we call FolkonomicsTM.
“By accessing secured business loans for growth, development and diversification, our borrowers may often benefit their local economy and community. In most instances they are creating and sustaining jobs; retaining talent in the nonurban areas of regional Britain, and stemming its tide to the cities.”
This article was initially published by Peer2Peer Finance News on 18th August 2022. The original version can be found here.