New president Tony Brown received the chain of office at the Dorset Chamber ahead of its 75th anniversary year.
He succeeded outgoing president Caron Khan at a packed annual meeting when members heard of a ‘successful year’ despite the challenging business environment.
Chief executive Ian Girling hailed the achievements of the past 12 months, which included the chamber’s first Business Festival of its kind.
The chamber – Dorset’s leading business support organisation and the county’s ‘voice of business’ – was also named as one of the top five chambers of commerce in the UK during 2023.
It celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2024, which will include the return of the Business Festival over a fortnight, including the Dorset Business Awards.
Ian Girling, marking his 10th anniversary in charge of the chamber, told nearly 100 members: “It has been another successful year.
“Our highlight of 2023 was the Dorset Business Festival, a four-day celebration that included a networking launch, a major conference and expo and the return of the Dorset Business Awards.
“With a footfall of over 800 businesses, this was the largest and most ambitious project ever undertaken by Dorset Chamber.
“A huge thank you goes to our amazing team and to all of our festival partners. You can expect to see the festival return in October 2024 over a two week period.”
Ian added: “It’s been an extremely challenging for businesses over the last four years with unforeseen global challenges and we will continue to do our absolute best for our business community.”
Ian picked out the chamber’s Google rating with 119 five star reviews – the highest of any chamber in the UK – and the success of the recently relaunched Dorset Apprenticeship Awards as highpoints of 2023.
Other achievements included the delivery of the first stage of the Dorset Local Skills Improvement Programme, the launch of a Future Leaders Forum and a continued focus on health and wellbeing initiatives as well as its vision of ‘Enabling Better Lives through Business’.
Dorset Chamber also announced a refresh of face-to face events in 2024 and innovative new services to bring in more commercial income streams.
The chamber, which has more than 650 members, runs as a business on a not-for-profit basis and is not heavily subsidised through publicly funded support.
Tony Brown, who is managing director of Ferndown-based Y-not-Finance, will be supported in his role by new chamber vice-president Gareth Sherwood, who is chief executive of Bournemouth YMCA.
Tony said: “Dorset Chamber has long been a beacon of collaboration, innovation, and growth.
“As we navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I am eager to build upon the strong foundation laid by my predecessors and work collectively with each and every one of you, to help move our chamber to even greater heights.”
The annual meeting also included board and ambassadorial appointments. These included Matthew Fretten of Frettens LLP as honorary solicitor and Lesley Fox of Mazars as honorary treasurer. Helen Stacey, who is managing director of Aspire Jobs, was appointed as the chair of the Dorset Chamber Ambassadors and joins the board of directors.
Following the annual meeting at the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel, the chamber held its Christmas lunch for nearly 200 people – one of the highest attendances for many years – when £1,744 was raised from a raffle for Diverse Abilities.
Dorset Chamber, which has an 85% membership retention rate, is the only chamber in the county accredited to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). It was one of five finalists in the BCC’s national Chamber of the Year Award this year.
It recently achieved an excellent rating in a Net Promotor Score survey of members, a metric to measure loyalty and advocacy towards an organisation.