Julia Johnson in the sunshine

Meet Julia Johnson, committee member at Newhaven Chamber of Commerce and director, Fine Marketing

We caught up with Julia Johnson, committee member at Newhaven Chamber of Commerce and director at Fine Marketing, about how the Chamber helps local businesses and her hopes for the future of Newhaven.

How would you describe Newhaven?

Newhaven is an exciting town that differs from any other in Sussex. It has a hard-working, passionate, and protective community. As a teenager, I lived in Seaford and went to school in Lewes, and Newhaven was considered the port town to avoid. However, it was always much more exciting and edgy than those around it.

The town has seen better days over the years, but more recently, you can feel much more positivity and a sense of revival in the air. Some inspiring local companies produce cutting-edge products and have been manufacturing for over 50 years. We have other new businesses whose owners are ambitious and determined. So, I love it here—there is never a dull moment, and it is full of interesting people.

Tell us more about the Newhaven Chamber of Commerce – what does the Chamber do, and how does it support local businesses?

Newhaven Chamber is a very active business networking group run by volunteers. We’re unusual in that we meet weekly for breakfast, and it certainly works for most members as much business passes hands. With meeting so frequently, we all know one another quite well, and there is strong support whether you are a newcomer or a long-standing member.

Referrals happen naturally, and our members are proud to recommend each other. Each member is happy to talk about the networking benefits and the work they have received through the Chamber. The knowledge we retain about each other and their businesses makes it easy to pass on a genuine referral to others.

At every meeting, there is a 10-15-minute presentation. This could be by a member, a guest, or a VIP. There is always something new to learn, and information is shared every week.

The committee is all volunteers. It would be great to be able to afford someone to handle the admin and membership, but we keep annual fees as low as possible, and we are not supported by the council or any other funding.

What are the benefits for Newhaven Chamber members?

There are social benefits and social events. This year, 23 members are going to Dieppe for three days in the summer. We also have a strong relationship with the Vietnamese Embassy, which is beneficial if anyone is interested in importing or exporting. We also know what funding and business support opportunities are available locally, and that information gets passed on to our members.

Newhaven Chamber has run the Seahaven Business Awards for nearly 20 years in conjunction with Seaford and Peacehaven Chambers. These awards are all funded by the goodwill of sponsors (including Newhaven Enterprise Zone) who are members of Seahaven Chambers. The awards are the most important night of the year for SMEs who are nominated from Newhaven, Seaford and Peacehaven giving them the opportunity to be recognised in one of seven award categories.

How did it feel to be named Best Networking Group of the Year nationally (in the SME National Business Awards 2023)?

This was an extraordinary occasion for the Chamber. We were incredibly proud to have been selected as finalists for Best Networking Group of the Year nationally and thrilled to be invited to the awards dinner at Wembley Stadium in December 2023. With over 700 businesses in attendance, it was undoubtedly the most significant award ceremony we had ever attended, so being announced as winners was a huge surprise and honour.

Tell us more about Fine Marketing and what you do.

The Fine Marketing spark was ignited eight years ago to provide local businesses with an agency that could offer first-class website design backed by SEO, a range of marketing services and analysis. Many local companies and entrepreneurs want to concentrate on running their businesses rather than the challenges of digital marketing in an ever-changing landscape. That’s where we come in, working as an extension of their team to improve their online presence with a flexible range of services structured explicitly to their business needs. This might be an e-commerce website, new branding, a brochure design, content creation or assessing traffic from their website and explaining what improvements they can implement.

Understanding our clients’ products, services, and customers enables us to increase customer engagement and improve their bottom line. We value our clients and continue to build long-lasting relationships as their outsourced marketing consultants.

What do you think makes Newhaven a great place to base a business? 

I chose Newhaven as my base because I am fortunate to live on the town’s outskirts; therefore, I don’t have far to go! Digital agencies can be run from anywhere, so being close to home was an obvious choice.

From your experience talking to Chamber members and your own experience as a business owner, what are the biggest challenges facing businesses in 2024 and how could the Newhaven Enterprise Zone best support businesses?

One of the difficulties if you are running a business and want to take someone out to lunch is the lack of a good, independent eating house, a decent hotel, somewhere to hold a business meeting for say 50 people with good catering facilities or to hold a business exhibition in the town.

Small start-up manufacturing units would be welcomed for sole traders or an incubator hub for makers.

Tell us what you love about Newhaven and its business community.

I have a lot of respect for the people who work in Newhaven. They are hard-working, passionate, and genuine. They are the kind of people who have put a huge amount of effort into their businesses because they believe in what they do.

What’s Newhaven’s best secret?

The location. We have the best of the South Downs and the coast – just minutes away. The scenery is spectacular, and it is all within walking distance. You have to make the most of it.

What would you like Newhaven’s future to look like in 10 years’ time?

I would like Newhaven to be more visually appealing and to offer more to young people, residents, and visitors alike. There are plans for the area between the beach and the cliffs which will make a difference but an interesting walk from the town to the beach with wide pavements, cafes etc. would make a difference.

If the Marina development goes ahead, that area will be a building site for many years but eventually should improve that section of the town, which looks unsightly.

We could do with a yacht club. There used to be one that was well-used, and currently, there is nowhere to cater to a reasonably sized conference, event, wedding reception, etc. If Newhaven is to capitalise on being East Sussex’s only port, we need to offer our visitors, including those who want to moor up and visit local attractions, better facilities and some fine dining.

I’d also like to see Newhaven with a modern purpose-built theatre or cinema/theatre complex that local drama and theatre groups, Seahaven Academy drama students and musicians, bands and singers can use. We have some great home-grown talent in the town but are unable to capitalise on it.

From a retail perspective, it would be wonderful if some independent retailers took over some of the empty shops in the town centre, but this will only happen when we become more of a draw for visitors.

To find out more about Newhaven Chamber of Commerce, please visit: www.newhavenchamber.co.uk



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