AWARD-winning retail consultant Graham Soult has been hired to support Durham businesses through the difficulties of Covid-19 and to help give the city centre a boost.

Mr Soult, who has been contracted by the City of Durham Parish Council, will be working with local businesses in the city over the coming weeks and months to help them set up and improve their online presence and operations.

Described as “a North-East Mary Portas”, Mr Soult is a high streets task force expert, retail consultant, blogger and media commentator, as well as the vice-chairman of Durham Business Club.

His recent work has seen major improvements and increased footfall to Chester-le-Street's Front Street.

He will also be promoting independent retailers in the city, and working with the parish council to help secure a variety of new retail and leisure occupants for empty business units.

With experience of generating around 400,000 impressions on social media sites such as Twitter each month, Mr Soult will also be leading on a concerted social media campaign – under the @IndieDurhamCity strapline – to increase footfall in Durham once the lockdown measures have been lifted.

Parish council chairperson Councllor Elizabeth Scott said: “We are absolutely delighted to be working with Graham Soult to support our local businesses in these extremely difficult times.

“Graham has a fantastic national reputation for delivering excellent results for city centres across the UK.

“For many businesses, our immediate concern is obviously making sure that they have the best possible support with their online presence and operations in response to the Government’s lockdown measures and all the pressures this brings to our retail sector.

“But more widely, we want to give the city a real boost post-pandemic with a huge social media campaign promoting Durham as a place to visit and shop with your family, with the aim of achieving greater footfall, empty units filled, and a more diverse offer for consumers."

Mr Soult said: “Our work will not be finished until Durham becomes the all-units-filled, independent retail capital of the UK.

“I am thrilled to be working with businesses in Durham city. Durham is such a phenomenal place and it is clear that the parish council is keen to take a lead in supporting businesses of all shapes and sizes in the city centre in Durham and helping them to flourish.

“My immediate task is to ensure that businesses are well-equipped to survive the pressures of Covid-19.

“But thinking past this, how the city centre recovers post-pandemic will be crucial. As chain stores leave town centres, a growing pool of independent shops and other businesses is needed to reinvigorate and sustain those places – not just in terms of filling empty units, but also in ensuring that there is a distinctive, quality, local offer, giving consumers a fantastic experience”.

Mr Soult will be starting work in Durham later this month and his services are available free of charge to all businesses based in the City of Durham Parish area.