IT’S the “pot of gold” that has pumped almost £900,000 into the Solent’s economy and created 130 jobs.

Twenty-four firms in Southampton, the Waterside and the Isle of Wight are the latest businesses to be awarded funding through the Daily Echo-backed Bridging the Gap phase two fund.

The fund, provided by the Government and co-ordinated by the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), was launched at the Daily Echo’s offices last year as a jackpot capable of making the dreams of dozens of entrepreneurs and business leaders come true.

Separate pots of funding were available for new startups, small and medium-sized businesses looking to grow, and former employees at the Ford Transit plant in Swaythling.

The first 11 businesses to benefit received £411,000 of funding, which created or safeguarded 51 jobs, as previously announced.

And now, in the biggest announcement so far, 24 firms have been given a share of £893,400 of funding – leveraging in a further £2.85m of funding – creating 129 jobs in the process.

The firms benefiting vary from a Prohibition-era US-themed diner and theatre to fish suppliers and marine navigation systems.

The announcement comes just weeks after the third phase of Bridging the Gap, offering a further £2m of funding, was launched, which is open to firms from across the whole of Hampshire.

The Solent LEP’s senior account manager, Steve Futter, said: “We are delighted to be able to confirm the latest Bridging the Gap beneficiaries, with close to £900,000 being invested in the Southampton, Isle of Wight and New Forest Waterside areas.

“The investment will support more than 100 much-needed jobs and it is fantastic that we are able to confirm these awards so shortly after launching £2m additional funding to roll the scheme out on a Solent-wide basis.”

Daily Echo editor-in-chief Ian Murray, left, said: “It’s marvellous news that so many businesses are benefiting from this support.

What is exciting is just how good the entrepreneurial spirit is here in Hampshire.”

CASE STUDY - The Cellar

Daily Echo:

THE Cellar in central Southampton will soon be home to a cabaret fringe theatre and Prohibition-era US diner, called The Stage Door.

The plan is the brainchild of Julianne and Jason Watling-McCarthy, who are working alongside the venue’s current owners, Kevin Coffin and Jonathan Greene.

When it opens next March, the venue will feature a 100-seater theatre featuring cabaret and comedy, and a speakeasystyle diner and cocktail bar.

Mr and Mrs Watling-McCarthy were awarded £50,000 of Bridging the Gap funding to go alongside £140,000 of other funding, with nine new jobs to be created.

Mrs Watling-McCarthy said: “Bridging the Gap was vital – we probably could have done it without the fund but it would have meant borrowing a lot of money.

“We are really excited – it will be somewhere where you can enjoy some comedy or cabaret, have a meal and sip a cocktail, without having to go from venue to venue.”

CASE STUDY- Dancing Man Brewery

Daily Echo:

BRIDGING The Gap funds will help to transform one of Southampton’s most historic buildings into a restaurant and the city’s first brew house.

The Dancing Man Brewery won permission earlier this year to convert the Wool House, in Town Quay, into a maritimethemed venue allowing customers to sip craft ales and eat food while sitting among historic artefacts.

The firm won £50,000 through Bridging the Gap to go with £360,000 of other funding for the venture.

It is expected the plans will create 13 new jobs when the venue opens later this year, but it could eventually create up to 30 jobs.

Brewery boss Stewart Cross said: “The Bridging the Gap money was a godsend – we couldn’t have done it without it.”

CASE STUDY- Import Services

Daily Echo:

A GRANT of £50,000 has helped Southampton and Hedge End-based Import Services expand its distribution facilities at the city’s container terminal.

The new project has seen about 65,000 sq ft of warehousing built next to the firm’s existing 175,000 sq ft facility.

The Bridging the Gap funding supplemented £540,000 of expenditure by the firm into the project, which has allowed the company to continue impressive growth of 12 per cent in each of the last five years.

As well as the new warehouse facility, the company has bought six new forklift trucks, four battery-powered pallet movers and nearly £300,000 of racked storage, while ten new jobs have been created.

Import Services’ finance director Richard Ainscow said the Bridging the Gap funding was “integral” to ensuring the project was approved by the company’s board.


The third phase of the scheme was launched earlier this summer.

There are two stages to the application process.

Firstly, you can submit an expression of interest, providing a summary of your bid, although this stage is now voluntary.

Forms can be downloaded at and then emailed to bridgingthegap@ when completed.

The deadline for the first round of expressions of interest is September 19. Further rounds will be announced in due course.

Once the advisory panel has looked at each bid, successful applicants will be invited to submit a full bid.

Forms should be emailed to

There is no fixed closing date for full bids, but as there is only a limited amount of funding early bids are recommended.