Universities support North East’s economic recovery: TechUPWomen

Universities have a vital role to play in helping the North East economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The work being delivered by North East universities is supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, and shaping and supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

Below is a case study about Durham University’s TechUPWomen programme, which took 100 women from the North of England and the Midlands, and retrained them for a career in technology.

Durham University wanted to address the fact that only 17% of the tech workforce is female, and women from Black, Asian and other minority communities are under-represented in the sector.

In 2019 it launched TechUPWomen, a programme that retrained 100 women from the North of England and the Midlands for a career in technology. In spring 2020, the TechUPWomen participants graduated from the six-month programme having developed skills in data science, machine learning, and project management.

Whilst studying for the programme, participant Benedicta Banga launched her own app – Blaqbase. Fellow graduate Shakirah Mustapha-Tahir is now working for HR in One as Content Manager and has been elected Board Trustee of Being Woman UK. Winona Sharpe, who also completed the course, started a new position as Junior Release Associate with Double Eleven Ltd, a games developer based in Teesside.

Other success stories include Jennifer Calland who has a new job as a Google Certified Platform Engineer for Cloud Technology Solutions and has been awarded a place at Edge Hill University to do an MSc in Big Data Analytics. Course graduate Amy Woodget has a new job as Lead Advisor in Earth Observation for the Civil Service, and Katherine Iveson has a new job as a Data Analyst for HMRC.

Durham University’s TechUPWomen programme was named winner of the Employment & Skills category at the Digital Agenda Impact Awards, which celebrates how technology and innovation improves lives.

For more information about Durham University’s TechUPWomen programme, visit www.techupwomen.org.

Click here to read more about how universities in the region are playing a central role in supporting the region to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

North East LEP response to government’s new Peer Networks scheme

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said: “Accessing knowledge, support and advice from peers is one of the most valuable resources for any new business.

“The £510k the North East LEP region has been awarded through government’s Peer Networks Programme will give hundreds of SMEs access to action learning sessions to help them to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, supporting businesses’ collective action to revive sectors and areas such as town centres, and to share knowledge and best practice on what has helped them to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities.

“Working collaboratively has always been a strength of the North East business community. We can now utilise that peer support to boost our SMEs and aid our region’s economic recovery.”

For more information about the Peer Networks scheme and to register your interest, visit www.peernetworks.co.uk.

In conversation with Dr Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive of NEL Fund Managers Limited and Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP

As a newly appointed member of the Business Growth Board, how will your skills and experience support the North East LEP’s aim to increase the density of scaleups in the region?

“I have been working with scaling up local businesses my whole career, first in professional services, then running the finance teams inside several high growth local businesses, and now as CEO of NEL Fund Management who have funds specifically targeted at scaling up businesses. You could say I’m a finance for scale-ups expert – helping businesses to grow with the finance they need is what I do every day.

“I bring to the Business Growth Board the knowledge of what scaleups need so we can ensure, as a Board, we create a joined up system to empower businesses with growth potential and provide them with the wide range of ingredients they need, including finance. The more businesses with scaleup potential that are financed for deliverable business plans, the more we together increase the density of scaleups in the North East LEP region.”

How important will access to finance be for our regional economic recovery as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

“Economically we are a long way both physically and culturally from City of London approaches to finance, but we don’t want any business to suffer for the lack of access to the right finance. Like most imbalances, the coronavirus pandemic has made more pronounced the existing disconnects.

“For years I’ve been advocating that accessing finance from a computer portal or call centre is fantastic until there’s a problem. An example is how many local businesses struggled to get through to their finance providers when they desperately needed to talk because they didn’t have a person-to-person relationship.

“Being able to access finance is about knowing where to go and who to talk to as much as it’s about the amounts involved and the level of cash. Central government created some fantastic interventions but these were for the heat of the emergency and not designed to be permanent or perfect. The recovery will take time and access to finance is likely to be a problem both in who will put up the finance in uncertain times, and does that finance fit the recovery, as every business will be different. As a Board, we need to ensure there is finance available that fills in any gaps over the medium to long term for regional businesses to deliver their potential.”

How will a recession further impact the North East, and what can businesses do to survive?

“I advocate three actions. First, good cashflow planning helps every business owner make informed decisions. As a chartered accountant, I would always advocate spending time on a good long range forecast, but almost anything is better than knee jerk reactions based on today’s bank account balance.

“Second, relationships matter when times are tough. The current situation presents an opportunity to forge deeper relationships with customers and suppliers. Now more than ever, people are logging who helps and who doesn’t. This creates opportunities for developing your business with new and existing partners.

“Third, the business world is in a state of flux and ‘fortune favours the brave’. It is difficult for complex organisations to be nimble but local businesses don’t need to wait for permission from head office. Now is the moment to think big and bold, striding out while others are busy elsewhere.”

Many small businesses are struggling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. What support is available for them in the North East?

“There is an immense amount of support available in the North East, all of which have rapidly adapted so they can help now. The list is so long that it’s not possible to cover it in a blog. My best suggestion is to talk to people; be that your existing trusted advisors as there may be many ways they can help that you’ve never needed to ask about.

“If you want to widen your pool of who can help, consult the North East Growth Hub or make an appointment to talk to the Growth Hub Connectors. The Growth Hub is a comprehensive portal of the support available in the region.

“Of course if you need information on finance, I’m happy to help. You can reach me by emailing [email protected].”

Universities key to North East’s economic recovery

Universities from across the region have joined the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities, the CBI on behalf of business organisations, and the North East Joint Transport Committee, in pledging their support for a new economic recovery plan that will help stabilise, adapt and rebuild the North East economy.

Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University are all members of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established by the North East LEP at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to provide business resilience and ensure a collective response to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the North East economy.

The Group has recently published its economic response summary report.

The region’s academic institutions have continued to operate during lockdown, and the work carried out by North East universities is supporting the recovery of the UK economy as a whole and helping businesses in the region adapt to a new way of working.

Professor Jane Robinson, who is Dean of Engagement and Place at Newcastle University, represents the North East LEP region’s four universities (Newcastle/Sunderland/Northumbria/Durham) within the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.

She said: “The universities will play a central role in supporting the region to recover from the post Covid-19 economic downturn. Universities contribute to the regional economy in a myriad of ways – as employers and educators and by linking our region to the rest of the UK and internationally. Critically at this time, as the source of research and expertise that will help our region not only survive, but thrive, as we enter the economic and social recovery phase of COVID-19. This collaborative approach signals our collective commitment to working in partnership with businesses and our communities to bring this knowledge to bear on the region’s recovery.”

The universities will help support the region’s economic recovery by:

  • Supporting new and existing businesses to innovate and grow, shaping and    supporting a more sustainable and inclusive economy
  • Identifying and meeting future skill needs – re-skilling and up-skilling the workforce
  • Connecting world-leading research and analytic capability to support scenario planning, problem solving and policy making
  • As major employers and ‘anchor institutions’ employing local people, supporting local supply chains, attracting and retaining talent and contributing to the vibrancy, culture and wider well-being of the region.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, (North East LEP), said: “Universities have a vital role to play in helping our region return to pre-coronavirus levels.

“They provide a highly skilled recruitment pipeline which will be essential for innovation businesses in our region. Tech, digital and life sciences are all areas of strategic importance for the North East so delivering a workforce with the skills that industry needs is key for the sectors’ success and the recovery of our economy.

“Knowledge exchange between academia and our region’s business community will help companies innovate and grow. High growth businesses are an essential part of a healthy economy; the expertise and knowledge at our universities can help us create more.

“As well as working extremely hard to deliver a world-class student experience during the coronavirus crisis, universities have a central role to play in our region’s economic recovery too.”

Universities are contributing to the new economic recovery plan in a number of different ways. Durham and Newcastle Universities are part of the N8 Research Partnership, which consists of the eight most research-intensive Universities in the North of England.

The N8 is currently involved in developing opportunities to unlock new business opportunities in the green economy, through the Net Zero North project, contributing to lasting prosperity for the North of England and beyond.  This is being achieved by accelerating the growth of the low carbon goods and services sector in the Northern Powerhouse through university-business-public sector collaboration.

Through the Northern Accelerator, Sunderland, Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham Universities are continuing to accelerate the commercialisation of the North East’s world-class research to help boost the region’s economy.

Northumbria has joined forces with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to launch a major new programme to help North East businesses grow or expand into the health, wellness and social care delivery sectors. The new Purposeful Health Growth Accelerator, will offer practical support, advice and growth capital investment worth more than £1m in total to up to 200 North East firms.

Teesside University’s £22.3 million National Horizons Centre (NHC), which officially opened in October 2019, is a national centre of excellence for bioscience that brings together research, teaching and enterprise. The NHC was established to directly address the potential of the bioeconomy.

Within days of the World Health Organisation declaring a global pandemic, the NHC supplied tens of thousands of pounds of specialist kit and equipment to North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to help them scale-up testing for Covid-19.

Other key initiatives led by the region’s universities to support the recovery of the North East’s economy include student and graduate internships in business and targeted enterprise programmes encouraging student startups.

For more information about the North East COVID-19 Response Group and the economic recovery plan visit www.northeastlep.co.uk.

Click here to see examples from Durham University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland and Teesside University showing how they are working with the region to support its economic recovery.

‘Plan for Jobs’ – response from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

Speaking about today’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard Baker, Head of Strategy and Policy for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said:

“The Chancellor is right to be focusing on stimulus and recovery at this stage. This series of proposals will support the labour market and key sectors and provide much needed opportunities to transition towards a greener economy in the future.

“The steps taken to support the hardest hit sectors, especially hospitality and tourism, are particularly welcome, as is the Kickstart scheme, which will provide opportunities for young people to gain experience and build confidence and skills in the workplace, improving their chances of going on to find long-term sustainable work.

“We have set a three-stage plan for recovery and renewal for the North East and will be continuing to talk with Government about further investment for the region.”

In conversation with Paul Butler, CEO of the North East Automotive Alliance and newly appointed Business Growth Board member at the North East LEP

Paul Butler, CEO of the North East Automotive Alliance, explains how the Business Growth Board at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – of which he is a member – is backing business to support more and better jobs.

Strong leadership is critical right now. What role will you be playing as a newly appointed Business Growth Board member?

The Business Growth Board has a key role to play in helping support the North East region, and the companies within it, to ensure we’re in a strong position when we come out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is a lot of work we need to do, but I believe we have a strong board and we are focused on providing the right support at the right time to speed up recovery.

In my role as CEO of the North East Automotive Alliance, I represent over 270 companies across the automotive sector and associated supply chains. Prior to that I worked in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical sectors with NEPIC and during that time supported the delivery of the regional UKTI services so I have a broad knowledge of the North East business base – particularly across the key manufacturing sectors. I am also a cluster management expert and have knowledge of the business support frameworks deployed in other countries, especially across Europe.

I bring all that experience to my role on the Business Growth Board so I can help the North East LEP bring together the right business support that’s required at this very challenging time.

From my very first meetings with the Business Growth Board I’ve been very impressed with its response. There is a real drive and desire to get the right framework to support businesses. In the longer-term, it’s about continuing that so we can deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan, the Local Industrial Strategy, and really drive the region forward.

What are the biggest challenges facing the North East manufacturing sector right now?

Given my role I have a bias towards the automotive sector but the challenges we face are common with other manufacturing sectors.

The coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis and as a global sector the impact has been felt hard by automotive companies and their associated supply chains. We are driven by demand so as countries entered strict lockdown measures the markets effectively closed. Thankfully, we have seen dealerships starting to open from the 1st June in the UK and other important markets are also opening, this is an important first step in the recovery for the sector.

As we come out of lockdown and begin the recovery the biggest challenge faced by the sector is managing the recovery – reacting to a very turbulent market and providing safe working environments for our excellent workforce as they return to work. As a cluster we have been doing a lot of work to share best practice around restart planning which has been shared with networks here in the North East, and across the UK.

We will continue to see a technological revolution as we see the introduction of new technologies linked to the global carbon emissions and climate change challenges; and the UK Government’s NetZero 2050 target and subsequent announcement that it was set to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2035. This had an immediate impact on the market and accelerated the move towards electrification.

I also believe the Covid-19 pandemic will hasten the move towards connected and autonomous mobility (CAM) to provide safe transportation for vulnerable people and zero touch logistics.

The region has strengths in both electrification and CAM which I am sure we can capitalise on for the betterment of the region.

Forecasting demand must be hard for the manufacturing industry during the pandemic. What words of advice can you share?

Demand is extremely difficult to forecast and that is a key challenge for manufacturing businesses.

Government support for the industry has been excellent, its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has definitely saved a huge number of jobs. But as we begin to return to work, demand is difficult to predict. It’s important we work with government to make sure the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or an equivalent, is put in place that allows more flexibility. We don’t want to be in a position where we bring people out of furlough to find demand is not as expected and we need to take them out the business again.

We need more flexibility to bring back the employees we need at the right time. It’s going to be a very turbulent period. If we see a second spike across Europe and the UK, markets could go into lockdown again.

I’m not from the North East originally but I’ve lived here for 19 years. The manufacturing base in the North East has a very adaptable workforce; one of our key strengths is our people. I have no doubt that the workforce and companies based in the region will be able to adapt quickly to any flux in demand. Our agility is our strength.

How can manufacturers get employees back on site safely as we see a return to the workplace?

There is lots of guidance available that companies need to follow. Government has released up-to-date guidance for a range of different workplaces.

We’ve been taking into account guidance from across the country and abroad, and disseminating strategies through a global network so companies have access to best practice on restart planning. We’ve taken the best ideas from around the world and looked at how we can implement them here in the North East.

I’m a member of a European cluster network and having reviewed what others have done, the North East is right up there with the best. And I think that’s been due to our willingness to share knowledge and experience with others.

All our businesses have been looking to ensure workers return to a safe working environment. We’re really going over and above in the North East.

A key part of our success is communication with employees; companies are constantly engaging with their workforce. Businesses are communicating all the measures they are introducing to keep people safe, for example, conducting risk assessments, adopting PPE, introducing COVID-19 champions to help implement changes, and amending working practices to mitigate risk by adding protective screens and having staff members face the same direction at work. Businesses are taking every measure they can.

Other measures include temperature testing on arrival at work, increased cleaning regimes, and one way systems to avoid cross over points in the workplace. Induction days have been introduced to take employees around sites so they can see the changes and return to work knowing every precaution has been taken to keep them safe.

In fact, since going back to work, many people have said they feel safer at work that other environments outside the home.

The North East Automotive Alliance is a partner of Supply Chain North East. What advice and support can this give business owners as they navigate this turbulence

Many businesses are predicting it’s going to take 12 months to two years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and get back to normal market conditions. As it’s going to be a long recovery period it’s important, we engage and support as many SMEs across the North East.

Supply Chain North East is a key programme for the region and the North East Automotive Alliance is one of four partners involved in the programme alongside RTC North, Generator and NEPIC.

The premise of Supply Chain North East is to either help companies strengthen their business base in the sectors they work in – for example, an automotive businesses looking to expand and grow in its sector – or the other side is to help companies diversify and use their skills to work in different sectors of industry.

Across the programme we have a lot of skill sets to support businesses. The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the economy and Supply Chain North East can help businesses to either grow their existing business base or help them to move into new markets.

In addition, our capital grants programme has been updated. SMEs can access up to 60% in grants (increased from a cap of 40%) towards stalled pipeline projects due to COVID-19 or activities aimed at developing the supply chain; and payments can be made at the start of a project. Critically, grants up to 80% are available for companies which can potentially support supply chain needs relating to the health and social care sectors.

We’re currently talking to businesses, discussing the challenges they are facing, and working with them to put together an action plan to help them come through the other side of this crisis.

More information is available at www.supplychainnortheast.co.uk.

North East Local Enterprise Partnership publishes its Annual Review 2019-2020

Tribute paid to its ‘exceptional’ team and the resilience of the North East’s business community.

The Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Helen Golightly, has paid tribute to the LEP’s ‘exceptional’ team and spoken about how the region’s inbuilt resilience and strong community will see it through the coronavirus crisis, in its Annual Review, published today.

Referencing the annual government review of all Local Enterprise Partnerships, which resulted in the North East LEP being marked exceptional for its delivery, Golightly said: “This demonstrates our strong leadership and solid implementation to ensure that our strategic projects are delivered to make the maximum impact to boost economic development and create more and better jobs.”

The Annual Review 2019-2020 sets out the progress that has been made against the six targets in the Strategic Economic Plan, in relation to the number, quality and type of employment opportunities available, the proportion of the workforce that is in employment and economically active, and productivity.

The two headline targets are to increase the number of jobs between 2014-2024 by 100,000 and for 70% of these jobs to be ‘better jobs’.

While COVID-19 has since made these targets more difficult to achieve, by December 2019 total employment had increased by 57,000. Employment in ‘better jobs’ had increased by 70,400.

Other key achievements in the last twelve months have included the North East Growth Hub becoming a critical resource for North East businesses, offering support on the EU Exit and how to best mitigate the impact of coronavirus. The launch of a second Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot has also taken place in the North East LEP region, this time focusing on primary schools.

The government announced in March 2020 that the North East will be at the centre of investment in innovation, while a highlight within the North East LEP’s transport programme has been the region collectively securing £198m from the Transforming Cities Fund to invest in key sustainable transport projects.

Speaking about the challenges currently being faced by businesses, North East LEP Chief Executive Helen Golightly said: “These may be truly uncertain and turbulent times but rest assured, we continue to support businesses and communities.

“This region is not frightened of a challenge and I am confident that our inbuilt resilience and strong community identity will carry us through to the recovery when we will do everything we possibly can to ensure our regional economy is back to pre-COVID-19 levels – and stronger again.”

Click here to read the North East LEP’s Annual Review 2019-2020.

Crowdfund North East LEP: Shoe Tree Cafe

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has partnered with Crowdfunder to make up to £5,000 in match funding available to help small businesses continue to trade through the coronavirus pandemic.

Crowdfund North East LEP allows small businesses employing no more than 10 full-time equivalent employees to secure match funding to boost their own crowdfunding efforts.

There are 45,800 eligible small businesses across the North East and many are in urgent need of financial support. The funds released by North East LEP will provide urgent relief for those businesses most in need who do not qualify for other government funding schemes. The match funding is being sourced from the North East Investment Fund and will total up to £1 million.

Below is a case study of Shoe Tree Cafe – a vegan and vegetarian cafe in Heaton, Newcastle – that has benefited from Crowdfund North East LEP.

To find out more about Crowdfund North East LEP, raise funds for your business, or donate to a small business in need, please click here.

Please introduce yourself, your company, and tell us why you fundraised through Crowdfunder.

My name is Joe and I’m one of the owners of Shoe Tree Cafe, a veggie and vegan cafe based in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Due to the uncertainty of this time we decided to raise money to help us diversify and alter our business model to one that can operate safely in the current climate, as well as support our staff and the wider community.

How easy was it to set up your crowdfunding campaign and apply for the North East LEP’s match funding?

Everything was really easy to setup through Crowdfunder. Choosing rewards was fun and it’s nice to know that folks are getting something back for their investment in your business, rather than just being encouraged to give you money for nothing.

Crowdfunder informed us there was potential match funding available and I was able to apply the same day through a simple form. It only took four or five days to be informed we’d got it, and then it was just a case of getting our supporters on board to hit the 25% and 75% targets to get the full funding.

What difference will the match funding from the North East LEP make

Without the match funding it would have taken a lot longer for us to get the cafe up and running again. We’ve now got a really nice little pot of money to get us going and diversify our business model.

Would you encourage other businesses to start their own crowdfunding campaign using Crowdfund North East LEP?

Absolutely! What have you got to lose?

IN CONVERSATION WITH…Colin Bell, Business Growth Director of the North East LEP and Ammar Mirza CBE, newly appointed Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board, talk about their aspirations for the future.

Ammar, you are a North East LEP Board member and the newly appointed Chair of the Business Growth Board. What is your ambition for this role?

The LEP is made up of individuals with significant experience, expertise and endorsement, representing the public, private and academic sectors, all with a shared ambition of making the North East a better place where we create more and better jobs, which is clearly even more important now.

Being the chair of the Business Growth Board is a privilege given the other members of the Board and the enthusiasm of Colin and his team to bring our strategy to fruition.  My ambition is for our work to help our communities realise their goals and raise aspirations, ultimately making a sustainable, meaningful and measurable impact.

Colin – your Business Growth Board has had a bit of a shake up, with Ammar joining as Chair alongside five new people, and a number of long-standing board members supporting a strong executive team. How important it is to have a strong relationship between the board and executive and what are you most excited about for the future?

Having a strong and active board who keep me and my team on their toes, provide constructive challenge, are prepared to be active in supporting and promoting the North East’s business community and who bring ideas to the table is what I look for.

It’s therefore fantastic that Ammar is the new Chair of the Business Growth Board as that’s exactly what he brings. His approach is all about channelling energy, action and being a champion of the North East.

Ammar is supported by some fantastic new Business Growth Board members including Darren Laybourne , Director at Turner and Townsend who brings a wealth of experience in scaling a global business; Liz Bromley, CEO of the Newcastle College Group who runs one of the UK’s largest college businesses; Paul Butler, CEO of North East Automotive Alliance who brings an expertise in in business support and industrial clustering; Yvonne Gale, CEO, NEL Fund Managers, providing a vital insight into the investor community; and Steve Underwood, Director, Dentsu Aegis, one of the UK’s largest digital agencies. This formidable group of business leaders joins our existing board members: Toby Bridges, Chairman, NBT Group; Ryan Maughan, CEO, Avid Technology; and Kate Wickham, CEO, Gate 7.

You’re both at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. How has this manifested into support for the North East business community? 

Ammar: People are understandably confused, concerned and cynical of the future, which in turn demands a response that is relevant, responsive and regionally focused.  The support led by the LEP and supported by a whole host of partners including the SME Centre of Excellence means that SMEs can get the right support at the right time to survive.

Colin: We are speaking with businesses every day to understand the practical challenges that they are facing and feeding intelligence to Government to inform them about what’s needed in terms of support.

At a regional level we are working closely with our partners to introduce initiatives to fill the cracks, such as Crowdfunder North East and the enhanced grant funding for the supply of PPE via Supply Chain North East. We are increasingly looking to the future and are currently working with Ammar and the Business Growth Board to develop a plan of action to support businesses through the restart phase so as many as possible bounce back strongly from the current situation.

The North East Growth Hub has seen a huge increase in businesses engaging with it and is becoming the go-to hub for information relating to not just COVID-19 but all business support and access to finance in the region. What impact is this having and why is it important?

Ammar: Having a single source of credible and up to date information is critical to help individuals access the support they need, especially in challenging times. The Growth Hub has always been a rich resource to help SMEs thrive.  Given the substantial number of service providers that feed into the Growth Hub, together with the Connectors who are able to provide one-to-one support, everyone accessing the service will benefit.

Colin: Businesses want access to simple and impartial support and guidance. The Growth Hub brings all support into one place and does not have any vested interests or targets to refer businesses to particular schemes – we are 100% focused on what’s right for the businesses.

Our highly experienced Growth Hub Connectors are there to have open and honest discussions with business owners. During the crisis they’ve been able to help remove some of the anxiety by helping them to see a path through the confusion and engage them on support and funding options of which they were perhaps unaware.

The North East LEP and the North East Growth Hub have been combining forces with other organisations to deliver support. Why is that partnership approach important?

Ammar: The North East is renowned for being the friendliest place in the country, and never has friendship and partnership been more important.  The LEP has always acted as an enabler, recognising that we must create a community underpinned by a collaborative campaign to develop an effective eco-system that will help our region restart, revive and ultimately thrive.  It is this partnership approach that will help us progress to a better place.

Colin: The Growth Hub is an impartial and trusted broker and we work with businesses to understand challenges and opportunities and then connect them with the people, organisations and solutions that we believe are best for them.

The delivery of support is carried out by our partners who are national and locally based and from the public, private and education sectors. We work closely with our partners through the Business Support Provider Network, which provides a forum to align their collective efforts to the delivery of economic strategy and to inform the development of business support and finance solutions that will deliver the greatest impact to businesses.

What should businesses be thinking about now in terms of recovery and readying for a recession?

Ammar: The three biggest enablers to success for any organisation are digital transformation, innovation and new markets.  These factors are even more critical to the recovery of our economy and that is where the Business Growth Board is focusing all its attention and efforts.  This includes working with the Michigan Institute of Technology Team and key stakeholders to develop an eco-system that gives our whole region a competitive advantage and an accelerated recovery plan.

Every business should be planning and preparing for the future in an innovative, inclusive and industrious manner.  Especially as the North East started the industrial revolution.

Colin: Businesses need to consider what they have learnt through the pandemic that they can use to give their business an edge moving forward. This may be things like honing into new market opportunities, developing new ways of working, harnessing technology and unearthing new capabilities within their teams.

People are pulling together to support one another through the current situation. How can business leaders follow this through into the recovery and harness the fire in people’s bellies, their collective energy, passion and creativity to deliver a better future – it’s by no means going to be easy but it’s our fighting spirit, grit and determination that will help the North East to bounce back.