IT WAS great last weekend to be out again on Small Business Saturday, talking with local business leaders about the challenges experienced during the pandemic and the opportunities they see ahead.

We know how important small business are for our national and local economy. But of course trading conditions have been extremely tough over the past 18 months, especially for leisure and parts of retail. Having said that, the resilience shown by so many, and their great creativity, have shown just how adaptable and innovative small business can be in difficult circumstances.

The Wheatsheaf in Alton is one of many local pubs impacted by the closures and restrictions. It was good to hear how they have been developing the business, through family events and al fresco hospitality for customers.

Finding new ways of operating was a necessity for many during the pandemic. Some local retailers moved to online models offering a range of delivery and collection services. This not only meant business could continue, but it was often a lifeline for local residents who were shielding or needing to isolate.

A new retail venture during this period would seem very risky. But Juniper in Lavant Street in Petersfield recognised the growing demand for more sustainable produce, with a packaging-free offer - from rice and porridge oats through to detergent and bubble bath.

The restrictions on how far we could travel away from home during the pandemic sparked a growth in walking and cycling. Increased environmental awareness meant a particular growth in demand for e-bikes.â?¯

The recently re-branded Rightbike UK (formerly Owen Cycles) in Steep near Petersfield is one local bike retailer who has seen this growth. It was interesting to hear about their plans to expand through franchising.

These are just a few of the local companies that are such a vital part of local life here in East Hampshire, providing products and services - and employment locally. Supporting businesses like this with incentives to invest is key. The cut in business rates next year for most retail, hospitality and leisure businesses is an important way to help the recovery, and to build back better.