South of Scotland Enterprise boss ‘incredibly proud’ of first three years

After years of fighting for this, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) could hardly have started at a worse time.

It was officially launched on April 1st 2020 – just days after the Covid pandemic hit the UK.

After three years, managing director Jane Morrison-Ross said she was “incredibly proud” of how things had gone.

But what impact has it had on the area it serves – Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders?

“We’ve been trying to lay our foundations as we go, which is always difficult, but in the first year there wasn’t time and capacity to do the normal things,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

She said that in many ways this means that SOSE is still like a start-up organization.

Nonetheless, she said she felt it had had a significant impact across southern Scotland.

Working at Kirkhope in the Borders is one of many projects supported by the organization

“It’s not just about the size of the grant or the loan, because some of the smaller amounts make an absolutely transformative difference,” she said.

“Some of the things that I think we’re most proud of as a team or see the greatest impact from are things like investing in Kirkhope Steading.”

In partnership with Ettrick and Yarrow community development company SOSE, the building has been transformed into apartments and commercial workshops.

“Something like this brings new families into a community worried about depopulation,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

“It brings new jobs, it brings new startups, and then it brings new kids to elementary school.”

Among the other initiatives supported were:

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Carbon Capture Scotland – a Crocketford company aiming to create up to 500 jobs

Hilltop Leaf – the medicinal cannabis company in Dumfries and Galloway

VR-EP – a Galashiels-based company developing a virtual reality device to provide a better understanding of dementia

Bubblefo – Development of devices to support children with respiratory and chronic chest diseases

There was also regret.

“We obviously got out of Covid and got right into the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis, the impact of changes in international import-export laws and everything else and that was really difficult,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

The story goes on

“There are businesses that we have lost in the south of Scotland because we were unable to step in with the kind of support needed to get them through six months of energy bills that in some cases went up by several hundred per cent.

“It’s frustrating, you know. To try and support all of the 11,000+ businesses in the South would have taken unprecedented support.

“It’s horrifying to see companies that are an important part of the supply chain struggle being shut down in some cases.”

There was also a £4.8million investment in PSA firm Alpha Solway which didn’t end as hoped as the company eventually closed one of its factories in Dumfries.

“I think such investments are difficult,” Ms. Morrison-Ross admitted.

“There is no right answer – if we hadn’t made the initial investment, there wouldn’t have been the supply, the capacity to be able to meet the PPE challenges during Covid.

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“And while it’s not the outcome we would have wished for, Alpha Solway has played a huge role in addressing the challenges during Covid in keeping people safe and providing that PPE.”

“Brilliant Team”

It is a learning process that is still ongoing.

“I think sometimes you have to take a little risk to make the right decisions,” she said.

“We won’t be right every time, but we will learn as we go.”

And what would she say to companies that see SOSE as a closed shop or an organization that is not for them?

“I usually just say call us, talk to us,” she said.

“We have a brilliant team across the South and we have people with expertise in just about every area you can think of.

“You have nothing to lose. Just give us a call and we will do everything we can to help you.”