Young businesses from Stirling and Forth Valley are being invited to compete for three free months of retail space within one of the area's leading shopping centres.

The competition is the first initiative launched by Thisltes shopping centre in Stirling designed to help local businesses grow following the difficulties of the Covid pandemic. The #ThistlesHelps campaign will continue throughout the year with various other offerings, one of which will see the Thistles team volunteering a minimum of 80 hours to worthwhile causes.

Supported by Go Forth Stirling, the winning business will be given a 1,000sq ft unit to operate from completely free of charge for three months, with all rent and utility charges covered.

Go Forth will also be providing the winning business with access to free training, a shop front grant scheme to aid with store signage and an eCommerce grant scheme that can be used to support any online activity, such as marketing and SEO development. The winning business will become a member of Stirling BID, receiving access to a number of other benefits.

HeraldScotland: Gary TurnbullGary Turnbull

Applicants are being asked to submit their proposed plans and explain why being part of Thistles will help them. Finalists will give a Dragon’s Den-style pitch to the judging panel.

“There’s no denying that it’s been a difficult year and we really want to do what we can to give back to the local community and help out where possible, which is why we’ve created #ThistlesHelps," centre director Gary Turnbull said.

“We have a great unit available and we’re excited to be able to offer it to a local business which otherwise might not have the opportunity to be located in such a high footfall area."

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The entries will be reviewed by a judging panel who will consider the business concept, the impact being in the centre could have on the business, and what the businesses will be able to do with the space. The judging panel will consist of Mr Turnbull and Claire Barrie, retail marketing manager at Thistles, along with Danielle McRorie-Smith, project director at Go Forth.

Mr Turnbull said should the panel be "blown away" by a number of quality pitches, Go Forth may also be able to support additional entrepreneurs or microbusinesses by helping them set up a site in vacant premises in the city centre.