The LEADER rural development programme operates in many areas of England and is a capital fund that provides grants to micro or small rural businesses and organisations to support their business growth and/or increases in productivity.

In terms of eligibility it’s for start-ups or established small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and less than £8.5m turnover per annum. The minimum grant awarded is £2,500, up to a maximum of £170,000.

From a family business perspective LEADER grants have supported farm diversification projects, food and drink enterprises, farm shops/cafes and tourism businesses. It can, however, support companies in a range of business sectors that are in rural areas whose management have identified a need for capital investments such as buildings or equipment.

Rural businesses who need finance to invest in growing their business, and creating more rural employment opportunities, should contact their local LEADER Team, typically hosted at their local council, to discuss any project ideas or developing project plans. "The LEADER grants are enabling rural businesses and organisations to put their good ideas into action, helping to grow rural businesses and employ more staff. They receive advice and guidance throughout the application process and a strong application has a very high chance of success, so now is a good time to apply." said Gavin Talbot, Suffolk LEADER Programme Manager.

A map of eligible areas can be found here and a list of the LEADER Local Action Groups with contact information can be found here. Please note that not all rural areas are covered by the programme so there can be gaps in geographic eligibility. For a series of case studies, please visit the following Suffolk County Council website.