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More than £1.2 million awarded to North East voluntary, community and social enterprise projects

More than £1.2 million has been awarded to voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations in the North East to fund projects that support young people in the region and that contribute to a green economic recovery.

The funding has been awarded by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), from its Local Growth Fund VCSE Capital Grant programme, which aims to help communities across the North East recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Projects awarded funding range from the regeneration of a community garden in Meadow Well, North Tyneside; the creation of a ‘social kitchen’ in Hendon, Sunderland; and the development of a new learning facility and 20 hectares of improved green space for public use in Newcastle.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “The VCSE sector does vital work, not only in supporting communities but it also makes a valuable contribution to creating a stronger, greener economy.

“We recognise the central role that voluntary, community and social enterprise-led projects have to play as we work together as a region to build a stronger post-pandemic North East, and this new funding will help to bring forward projects that will benefit communities across our region.”

One of the organisations to receive support is Meadow Well Connected, which will receive £54,612 towards the regeneration of a community garden which will act as a hub for the local community, with opportunities for young people to undertake training in landscaping, biodiversity and horticulture.

Mandi Cresswell, Chief Officer of Meadow Well Connected, said: “The North East LEP funding will give a massive boost to our regeneration plans for our five-acre community garden and enable us to support local young people to gain skills and experience of working outside. It will create more biodiversity locally and create shared spaces for local people to enjoy.

“Our outdoor spaces have proved vital during the COVID-19 restrictions, providing opportunities to meet safely and connect with nature. We can’t wait to start this transformative work which will make a real difference to people of all ages.”

In Sunderland, Back on the Map – a charity which works to improve quality of life for residents of Hendon – has been granted £100,472 to turn an empty shop into a community café and training space which will work to counter food poverty as well as offering training placements for young people with learning disabilities.

Julie Gray, Chair of Back on the Map, said: “We are delighted to receive this award from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. The funds will enable us to develop a sustainable local enterprise which will provide training and employment opportunities as well as improving local retail premises and simulating the local economy in an economically deprived area.”

The Natural History Society of Northumbria, based in Newcastle, has also been awarded funding, receiving £91,500 towards its Gosforth Environmental Field Station. The project will provide a learning space for schools, colleges and universities, plus 20 hectares of woodland for public use, and builds on the existing Gosforth Nature Reserve which has been managed by volunteers since 1929.

Clare Freeman, Director, Natural History Society of Northumbria, said: “Young people will be delighted with opportunities to experience nature and develop new skills at Gosforth Nature Reserve. Skilled, enthusiastic volunteers are really excited to develop our education programme to offer a much wider range of activities, proactively inviting new community groups to experience this regional natural gem. We would love to hear from community groups, school groups, colleges and universities who may like to visit the new field station and nature reserve.”

In Gateshead, Chopwell Regeneration CIO have been awarded a grant of £100,000 to convert a former bank into an enterprise and welfare centre in the heart of Chopwell in rural west Gateshead. The centre will include a food bank, community cafe, employability skills training, and space and support for small businesses.

Jodie Barwick-Bell, Chair of Chopwell Regeneration CIO, said: “We are over the moon to receive this grant which will enable us to provide vital services from this autumn. The impact of COVID on our already deprived community is severe and the need is significant. As a result of the grant we will now be able to provide much-needed support to our community, including in particular education and training opportunities. Thank you so much to the North East LEP.”

Dean Titterton, Chief Executive Officer of YMCA North Tyneside, which was awarded funding for a youth skills academy, said: “YMCA North Tyneside are delighted to be awarded this grant from the North East LEP for work that will prove to be invaluable to young people and the community that we serve. As a thriving local charity that looks to create healthy, happy and connected communities we know that the money granted will enable us to equip individuals with the appropriate training, skills, advice and guidance for now and the future.”

A further 9 organisations also received funding to support a range of VCSE projects across the region.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP added: “All the projects which have been brought forward for funding have real potential to contribute towards a greener, better future for the North East and to engage young people with opportunities to develop their environmental awareness and skills.

“The past year has hit our region hard but I’m confident that we can collaborate and move towards recovery together, and local projects like this can play a central role.”

(Image: Madow Well Connected).

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Funding awarded to help North East businesses recover from COVID-19 impact

More than £235,000 in funding has been awarded to help North East businesses in a range of sectors recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding will result in the creation of 12 different business support projects, for North East businesses operating in areas including the cultural sector, food and drink, digital and manufacturing.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explained: “The North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group was created very quickly after the effect of the pandemic on our region became apparent, and it is coordinating a response which prioritises job creation and investment in our people, infrastructure and innovation.

“As part of this response, the North East LEP is providing funding that will enable business support organisations to put in place new ways of helping businesses in a variety of sectors to rebuild and move forward.”

The money is part of the Local Growth Fund which helps to create jobs, boost the economy and improve the quality of life for people living and working in North East England.

The programmes which have been awarded funding through this latest round of grants include a programme to help digital businesses promote vacancies to people in the region who have been made redundant during the pandemic; an innovation accelerator for the pharmaceutical sector in the region; and a programme to support the economic recovery of the creative and cultural sector in Durham.

Ian Pilkington, Chair of Food and Drink North East (FADNE), which has been awarded funding to support food and drink businesses in the region, said: “Targeted, sector specific and specialist business support is a fundamental part of the FADNE strategy and key to unleashing the potential of our vibrant food and drink sector and supporting its growth in a meaningful and measurable way. We are delighted to be working with partners such as the North East LEP and NBSL and look forward to launching our Speaking From Experience programme early in the New Year.”

Paul Butler, CEO of the North East Automotive Alliance, which will use its funding to develop the region’s electric vehicle cluster, EV North, said: “North East is leading the UK’s electrification agenda. However, we cannot rest on our laurels, we must continue to develop our capabilities in this area and ensure our businesses are best placed to capitalise on this global electrification mega trend. We are delighted to receive this support to enable us to move our EV North activities forward.”

“This is a critical time for many businesses in our region, which have been hit hard by the economic shock of COVID-19,” said Colin Bell. “The North East has an efficient, coordinated response which I am confident will put us on the path to a stronger post-pandemic economy and this funding will help to make sure that no one is left behind as we move towards recovery.”

Find out more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Recovery Group here.

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The benefits of open innovation

Many people don’t know what open innovation means, but ultimately, it’s just a way of working together to develop competitive advantage, says Alan Welby, director of innovation for the North East LEP.

While businesses frequently rely on their internal teams and knowledge to develop a competitive edge, open innovation can provide an exciting and beneficial alternative.

Open innovation can take lots of different forms and is often described in a variety of ways. For example, people might use the terms challenge activities or sprints but at its core, the premise is very simple. It’s a means of sharing a work context or problem within a safe wider environment so that partners, and sometimes even competitors, can help find a way forward.

It’s the idea behind Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme that we are running here at the LEP.

We are offering SMEs up to £5k grant funding between January and March 2021 to develop solutions to specific challenges caused by COVID-19, with the possibility of being in the running to win a grant of up to £40k to scale the most impactful solution in each area.

The first call in the programme is called ‘Together again: Delivering safe and engaging in-person events’ and it seeks answers to how people might be able to gather safely again indoors and outdoors, while achieving an engaging experience for those watching at home.

The second Challenge North East call is known as ‘Safe Again: Adapting home-based services’. Those who have ideas for new ways of working for those who deliver and rely on in-home services will be eligible for funding and development support.

We’re excited and hopeful about what the regional business community will come up with. The North East is a place that traditionally likes to solve problems and is entrepreneurial by its very nature.

A great example of this is the Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival where, to use their own description, they “gather some of the greatest and most innovative minds from the worlds of business, science, tech, engineering, utilities and customer services and get them to tackle real world problems together in a series of sprints.”

To achieve this, they create a trusted environment in which issues can be discussed and collaborative solutions found. The goal is for this type of approach to become mainstream.

Through Challenge North East we want to show that we are better at open innovation than elsewhere in the UK and become a hotspot for this kind of thinking and action. That needs us to create a culture in which looking outwardly to innovate is the norm, so that our organisations flourish and other businesses want to invest here.

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: Teesside University secures funding for employee-focused mental health and wellbeing platform

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 from Teesside University about its support for mental health platform, Discova, which aims to help thousands of UK employees overcome problems affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

Discova – an innovative digital learning and support platform that helps company leaders and their employees battle common mental health issues via peer-to-peer support – was set up by North East Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Lizzy Hodcroft, and entrepreneur Emma Reilly.

Staff from Teesside University worked with Lizzy and Emma to help Discova raise £300,000 from government’s Innovate UK programme to accelerate the company’s plans for growth and expansion.

Innovation Manager at Teesside University, Omar Al-Janabi, provided innovation support through the Enterprise Europe Network’s Innovate2Succeed programme. He also introduced Discova to Komodo – a Tyneside web development and app agency – and authored the collaborative bid to Innovate UK.

Working alongside Komodo, Discova plans to launch its pioneering AI-assisted app in the next 12 months, further develop its online technology, invest in new staff, and strike up partnerships with like-minded businesses.

Discova is an anonymous platform that allows employees suffering from common mental health issues to seek help from others who have experienced similar problems.

Laura Woods, Director of Academic Enterprise at Teesside University, said: “We are delighted to have been able to help Discova, particularly as Innovate UK receives more than 1,800 applications for funding per annum, only 2% of which are successful.

“Discova offer an essential service which makes a real impact on people’s lives and it is fantastic that they now have the opportunity to expand this vital support.”

To find out more about Discova, visit www.discovahealth.com.

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.

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership 2020 AGM 

Businesses will be given an update on plans to build a stronger North East post-pandemic economy at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) 2020 Annual General Meeting.

Taking place online on Tuesday 24 November, the event will include a welcome from the recently-appointed Chair of the North East LEP, Lucy Winskell.

Lucy Winskell said: “As 2020 began, we were making good progress towards our goal of creating 100,000 more and better jobs here in the North East by 2024.

“However, we know that COVID-19 has hit businesses and communities in our region hard. That’s why we acted quickly to create the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group with the CBI and the North of Tyne and North East combined authorities, which has recently published its proposal for counteracting this damage and creating a thriving post-pandemic economy.”

The AGM will also include updates on business growth, innovation, skills, transport connectivity, investment and infrastructure in the region, and how businesses are preparing for next year’s EU Exit.

Speakers at the event include Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East LEP; Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP; and Paul Woods, Chief Finance Officer at the North East LEP.

Lucy Winskell added: “It’s been a tough year but there is still positive news to share as we look to the future of our region and the opportunities we have in sectors including digital, low carbon, life sciences and pharma.”

The 2020 North East LEP AGM will take place on Tuesday 24 November from 9.30am to 10.45am. Book your place here.

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Unique new fund announced to protect IP of Health and Life Sciences businesses in the North East

A unique new fund aimed at protecting the intellectual property of high value health and life sciences businesses in the North East has been announced by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP).

The COVID-19 Patent Protection Scheme is a £300,000 grant fund designed to support high-value proposition (pre-commercial) health and life science businesses negatively impacted by the coronavirus crisis and at risk of losing their patents and intellectual property due to lack of funds.

The scheme has been developed in direct response to the needs and demands of businesses operating in the health and life sciences sector, many of which have not qualified for government support or local authority grants.

Katherine Forbes, Health and Life Science Programme Lead at the North East LEP, said: “For early stage innovation and research-led businesses in the health and life sciences sector, protecting and retaining intellectual property is vital for securing investment and ensuring a strong commercial footing in the future.

“If we don’t support these businesses now we risk losing significant assets, talent and skills, and our future scale-up businesses from the region, and that will damage the sector as a whole.

“The health and life sciences sector is one of four areas of strategic importance identified in the North East Strategic Economic Plan. It has a vital role to play in our economic recovery, which is why the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – led by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – established the COVID-19 Patent Protection Scheme.

“This Grant Fund is unique to the North East. So far, this has not been replicated in other areas of the country. It really demonstrates the North East’s commitment to growing the health and life sciences sector, which contributes more than £1.5bn GVA to the local economy every year.”

Pre-commercial, high value proposition businesses in the North East LEP area with life science-related patent(s) are invited to apply to the fund. Grants of up to £25,000 will be awarded to cover new or essential filings and the costs of retaining patents, or annual renewal fees of patents, incurred from 9 July 2020 – 31 March 2021.

More information is available is available by clicking here. Application forms can be requested by emailing [email protected].

The North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group 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.

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Crowdfund North East LEP: Worldbeaters

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 Worldbeaters – producers of the acclaimed interactive street theatre show, Spark!, – which 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.

I’m Chris Maines-Beasley, a Director of Worldbeaters based in North Shields. We are producers of Spark! – an interactive street theatre show that combines drumming, movement, clowning, dazzling costumes and lots of light! We created the show in 2012 here in the North East, and it has toured the world ever since!

Arts and events have been hit as hard as any other other sector by COVID-19 and we know we have to adapt our show for the new realities ahead. Our biggest asset is our bank of self-employed performers. We depend on them as much as they depend on us, so it was crucial that we found a way to support them during this difficult time. Crowdfunding was a perfect fit as it connected us to our many fans around the world for them to directly support a show they love.

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

It was pretty straightforward. There was minimal form filling: just all the info that any business will already have to hand.

Then came the fun part of creating our ‘message’.  We already had a lot of nice visual material that we could use and we had a real clarity of purpose in that 100% of the money raised is going directly to support our performers to rehearse and rework the show. That clear message was important. Crowdfunder provide lots of useful advice and resources on their site to help with this, and good supportive advice as the process went along.

We did not offer any tangible rewards, so we had to work hard to make the connection between the performers and potential supporters. That was really satisfying. The performers made a nice video speaking directly to supporters, and the feedback we had from those who donated was that that human connection to the ‘story’ of the performers was crucial.

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

It was absolutely essential for us and we would not have started the Crowdfunder without knowing it was available. To raise our £10,000 target on our own felt a little daunting, but knowing that the North East LEP would match half of that gave us the confidence to start.

We also know the match-funding was very important to our supporters and we made a lot of that fact that their £50 donation would actually be worth £100 to us after the North East LEP matched it. It made people feel like they were giving double and was a real win for us in getting donations.

All of the money raised is going to pay our performers for rehearsals and to adapt the show to be more COVID-ready. It’s crucial to ensure that we still have a show to offer when events resume again in the future.

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

Absolutely. Go for it! It’s such a flexible type of fundraising that you really can tailor your approach to fit almost any product or need. As well as the money raised, the act of crowdfunding helped us have a focus during these difficult times and to keep our team motivated for the future.

Upon successful completion of the Crowdfunder, the money was in our account within a few days. We were able to begin our COVID-safe rehearsals and start paying our performers immediately. It feels great to be back working together again.

I really recommend that North East businesses have a go at crowdfunding in this way. It was actually a lot of fun and has helped our business and our team to adapt and be in the best shape to hit-the-ground-running again when things pick up again. Hopefully we’ll see you out on the road soon!

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Crowdfund North East LEP: Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team

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 Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team – a voluntary emergency service that provides a search and rescue service to the area covered by Northumbria Police – 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 Ninette Edwards, Fundraising Officer of the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were forced into lockdown, our team’s fundraising events were all cancelled, which would have brought in £15,000 to the team to cover our core operating costs. The crowdfunding campaign was the perfect opportunity to tell everyone how the pandemic had hit the team and to raise vital funds.

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

It was very straightforward to set up the crowdfunding campaign. Getting the right message out to potential supporters took some thought though, and I had never attempted a video message, which was a learning experience!

Crowdfunder told us that we were eligible for match funding through the North East LEP, and it was very easy to complete the extra form to apply for this. Having the targets of 25% and 75% to reach and receive the match funding kept the momentum of the campaign going, and gave us a huge boost.

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

With such a shortfall in our funding this year, the match funding will allow the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team to stay on top of the core operating costs that allow the team to remain on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without cutting costs.

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

Absolutely. The publicity for the team through the campaign really got the message across about the service we provide and how much financial support we need. We are a volunteer organisation and have to raise every penny ourselves to provide our life-saving service.

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Investment on offer to help SMEs develop tech solutions to energy challenges

Up to £40,000 of investment is on offer to SMEs in the North East who can put forward digital or data-led solutions to help monitor and manage energy consumption.

The Energy Innovation Challenge is led by the North East Energy Catalyst, a partnership of leading energy sector organisations which aims to develop solutions to global energy challenges here in the North East.

David Lynch, Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who supports the work of the Energy Catalyst, explained: “Working with the North East Energy Catalyst is a unique opportunity for innovative SMEs given the strength and breadth of this region’s energy sector, which includes leaders in energy businesses, science and research and key infrastructure organisations.”

“We’re excited to be launching a series of energy innovation challenges throughout 2020 and 2021, inviting SMEs within the North East LEP area to submit responses to each challenge.”

A cohort of up to 10 successful businesses per challenge will be identified by an expert panel, drawing on the North East Energy Catalyst partners’ expertise. The successful cohort will receive a programme of support which will help them develop their idea and bring it to market.

This will include £20,000 of investment from Northstar Ventures, subject to eligibility criteria, which will be offered to 10 businesses across the programme, and the opportunity to submit matched grant applications for Local Growth Funding of up to a further £20k.

The next challenge is open for applications until noon on 18 September 2020 and SMEs are invited to put forward data or digital-led solutions that can help businesses to track energy consumption, or that can be used at sites like airports, ports and business parks to help manage energy savings.

David Lynch added: “This is an exciting opportunity for our colleagues in the digital, tech and energy sectors to take the lead on a new wave of energy solutions.

“The North East has a strong pedigree of innovation in power and energy generation, from steam, to electricity and now sustainable technologies, each of which has made a significant impact in the international economy. We are a force to be reckoned with in the energy sector and this is a great opportunity for digital and tech businesses to engage with partners working on the global energy stage.”

More details about the challenge are available here or from David Lynch on [email protected].

The North East Energy Catalyst is a ground-breaking partnership to unite the North East’s leading energy innovation, demonstration and delivery capabilities. Facilitated by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), North East Energy Catalyst partners are: Newcastle University; Durham University; Northumbria University; Zero Carbon Futures (a subsidiary of Gateshead College); Northern Powergrid; Northern Gas Networks; The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult; The British Engines Group; Innovation SuperNetwork; Northumbrian Water; The North of Tyne Combined Authority; The North East Combined Authority.