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Challenge North East: the story so far

Challenge North East is an innovation programme, launched to identify solutions to issues created by COVID-19 and to enable SMEs to develop and test these solutions with large regional partners who could adopt them. Programme Director, Sarah Cox, gives an update on the response from businesses in the North East, and the drive to fast-track products that could help the region recover from the pandemic.

In December last year we put out a call to North East SMEs, asking businesses to put forward ideas that could help our region – and potentially the rest of the UK – recover from the impact of COVID-19/

The pandemic had a huge impact on businesses and communities in our region and we knew that innovation could play an important part in our recovery. We wanted to fast-track the development of new solutions, and provide SMEs with an environment where they could test and iterate, using an open innovation framework to bring organisations together.

But before we could ask SMEs to put forward ideas, we needed to narrow our focus and identify key areas where we could have the biggest impact, and help the greatest number of people.

After working with a range of large organisations and community groups, we identified two challenges which urgently needed solutions: how to safely bring people together for in-person events, like gigs, exhibitions or performances; and how to ensure vulnerable people’s safety when delivering services in the home, like health visits and home repairs.

We understood that SMEs are themselves stretched and facing uncertainty, so we wanted to provide a support system and a clear, rapid process for them to develop ideas with the potential for adoption. challenge North East was launched in late 2020, with the ultimate aim of funding the development of new solutions to these two challenges.

We’ve been lucky to have the support of organisations like Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Newcastle Hospitals, Northern Gas Networks and others, who have helped us understand the detail of these challenges, and are also providing a means of testing potential solutions. By bringing these supporting organisations together with SMEs, we’ve been able to speed up and de-risk the process of innovation, connecting businesses with large organisations that can provide feedback and a route to market for any new products.

More than 60 SMEs entered the challenge, with submissions ranging from virtual queuing systems for events, to smart devices that can monitor patients’ health in their homes. 16 have now been selected to progress to the next stage of the challenge, and the ideas which will have the greatest impact and which have the best chance of commercial success and social impact will be awarded funding towards further development and scaling up.

We launched Challenge North East with an open mind, and the programme has responded at every stage to the needs of our local communities and industry. The goodwill and willingness of people to work together has been truly inspiring and these SMEs are beacons of success in a difficult time.

With innovation, when you start you’re never certain of the end result, but Challenge North East has given us a route forward together.

Find out more about Challenge North East.

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North East Local Enterprise Partnership reaction to ONS regional labour market statistics

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“As we mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, today’s data release is a timely reminder of the changes which COVID-19 has meant for our labour market. It provides the latest official data which includes regional employment information for the three months up to and including January 2021 and also annual comparisons.

“In the most recent months, the headline data has been stable. The employment rate in the North East region, which includes the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas, remains the lowest in England at 71.3 per cent, 0.1 percentage points higher than in the last quarter but 0.4 percentage points down on a year ago.

“The region has the second highest unemployment rate (6.2 per cent of the economically active) and the highest proportion of working age people who are economically inactive (23.8 per cent). Almost 30,000 workers in the region have been made redundant during the past year.

“However, some of the recent impact of COVID-19 has been masked by an increase in the use of furlough in the region. Over 114,000 North East employments were furloughed at the end of January, more than double the total of three months earlier. Most furloughed workers continue to be classified as employed in the official statistics.

“The impact on different groups in our population has been different. Younger people have experienced particular challenges both in employment and training and there have also been different patterns in the impact for men and women in the past year. The number of unemployed women has increased by 14 per cent, while male unemployment is lower (by about 8 per cent). Almost 52 per cent of furloughed workers in the North East at the end of January were female.

“The progress we are seeing towards the lifting of lockdown restrictions offers hope for the thousands of businesses unable to trade. Support for these businesses remaining under restrictions needs to continue.

“The North East LEP will continue to work with government as we look to drive forward our economy and address some of the key challenges which COVID-19 has created in our region.”

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Ground-breaking Careers Pilot Hailed a Success

An independent evaluation of the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot has been releasedThe North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) played a central role in the Pilot and Skills Director Michelle Rainbow reflects on this and how even after the Pilot was completed, the Benchmarks have remained at the heart of the North East Ambition programme.  

I was so proud when I read the evaluation – to hear the Pilot described as transformational and to know that the North East played such a pivotal role has been a real honour.   

We’ve always believed that the right careers education can have lifelong rewards for young people and to see that recognised independently today is fantastic.  

We started with 12 schools, three colleges and one pupil referral unit taking part in the Pilot, which ran across two academic years (2015/2016 and 2016/2017). 

The Pilot was designed to support those schools and colleges to implement the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance, evaluate how they were implemented, and identify what impacts might result from this. Today’s report notes the “observable and positive impact on learners, especially those who are most disadvantaged” – demonstrating the value that the Benchmarks can bring.  

The North East Strategic Economic Plan is our blueprint for growth in the North East. We know that skills and people are central to successful economies and through our work with the Pilot we’ve defined a programme with careers at its coreOur approach was bolstered by government integrating the Benchmarks into the national careers strategy, which requires every secondary school to adopt the Benchmarks and North East Ambition is here to support them to do that.  

North East Ambition’s key principle is “each and every”, making sure that every single student has the opportunity to access good careers guidance and recognise what their pathway could be. Why? Because we too believe it can be transformational.  

We have secured £3.1m European and match funding to support our North East Ambition programme that sees us working with 170 secondary schools and all nine of our FE colleges and two 6th form centres. This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to our pledge to work with each and every pupil in our region so that no one is left behind.  

We have also launched a new Pilot to adapt and translate the Benchmarks for primary aged pupils. There’s increasing evidence to show that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. And by the age of 10, many young people have already made career limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14. Imagine how we could change that trajectory if we could embed Benchmarks that related to primary aged pupils. We are one year in and our results are extremely encouraging.  

We haven’t let the impact of COVID-19 slow us down either. The trusted relationships we have built with the schools and colleges through over the past five years gave us the established network and routes into schools and colleges that we needed to continue to support young learners at the most challenging time. 

One of the things we have been incredibly keen to keep going is helping young people experience the world of work even during COVID-19 where they can’t physically get into workplaces. This is why, in response to requests from Careers Leaders, we have developed a Work Experience Framework, which will be launched next week. As an online resource, the site will support students and employers to facilitate virtual work experience  

The Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot was an incredible success and we are grateful that our partnership with the Gatsby Foundation enabled us to play such a critical role in it. But the work is not over – this is just the start as we continue to lead the way in showing our young people there is a world of opportunity available to them and anything is possible. 

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New report shows improving career guidance in schools and colleges leads to better student outcomes and attitudes, and raises aspirations

Improving career guidance in secondary schools and colleges can lead to better student outcomes, while also raising aspirations and increasing engagement with education, according to the final evaluation of a four year pilot.

The evaluation, carried out by the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University of Derby, followed 16 schools and colleges in the North East of England as they implemented a career guidance framework known as the Gatsby Benchmarks. Findings within the report include:

  • Student Career readiness scores (a measure of preparedness for work) showed significant increases in all year groups across the four years of the evaluation
  • The greater the number of Benchmarks held, the greater the number of GCSE passes at A*-C/9-4 were achieved by each learner, even when gender, ethnicity, SEND status, FSM status, looked after status and Ofsted rating were statistically controlled for.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, learners at pilot colleges became increasingly more likely to achieve their learning outcomes, compared to learners at local colleges or all other colleges.

As well as this, teaching staff observed real changes in learner’s engagement in class. There was a reduction in learners querying the point of particular subjects or topics because they understood the relationship between knowledge/skills and their future career. Employers supporting the pilot also said that young people were better able to articulate their career ideas and talk about themselves, and were better informed about their options as well as the types of jobs available.

The pilot, begun in 2015, was set up to test how schools and colleges could use the Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance and what the impact would be on their students. The North East region was selected, and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership ran the pilot along with the Gatsby Foundation.

Following early results from the pilot, the Government adopted the Gatsby Benchmarks into their 2017 Careers Strategy for all schools and colleges in England, and has recently renewed its commitment to having the Benchmarks as a part of national education strategy in the ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper.

Alistair Cummins-MacLeod, Director of Student Experience, Engagement & Wellbeing at East Durham College, said: “The pilot and the Gatsby Benchmarks have helped raise careers education to a new level. Our students have certainly benefited from this. They are more aware of the opportunities and can make really informed decisions about what they want to do next.”

Dr Jill Hanson, Lead Author on the evaluation, said: “Following the pilot schools and colleges for four years has been incredibly exciting. We have watched them implement excellent career guidance programmes and were privileged to be able to see the difference this has made to the schools and colleges, to the staff and most importantly to the students. This pilot has had a positive impact on the knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations of students in the North East and it is important that this progress continues across the country.”

Beth Jones, Head of Career programmes at the Gatsby Foundation, said: “Careers guidance should never be seen as an ‘add-on’ to school or college learning. What this evaluation makes clear is the difference made to the lives of students when Careers as a priority.  As schools and colleges around the country continue to work towards the Benchmarks, we hope this evaluation will show them the amazing impact their work can have on their students.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “I was so proud when I read the evaluation – to hear the Pilot described as transformational and to know that the North East played such a pivotal role, was such an honour. We’ve always believed that the right careers education can have lifelong rewards for young people to see that has been recognised independently today is fantastic. We continue to keep the Benchmarks at the heart of our North East Ambition programme as a sign of our support and commitment to them.”

Ryan Gibson, Facilitator of the pilot at the North East LEP, said: “It was a privilege to lead the pilot, to work directly with schools and colleges and to see the transformational impact of the Benchmarks. The North East LEP, the pilot schools and colleges and the individual career leaders involved developed an approach that now underpins our national work towards ensuring that each and every young person benefits from world class careers provision.”

Image: Students at Harton Academy learning about careers.

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NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme awarded £7m from government’s Getting Building Fund

NewcastleGateshead Quays – the landmark arena-led regeneration scheme on the banks of the NewcastleGateshead quayside – has been awarded £7m from government’s Getting Building Fund to support the creation of the new events destination and a new link road connecting Baltic Quarter with the A184 and Felling Bypass.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) manages the Getting Building Fund in the North East LEP area, which comprises Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland. The North East LEP Investment Board approved Gateshead Council’s funding application in December 2020.

Andrew Moffat CBE, Chair of the Investment Board at the North East LEP, said: “The Getting Building Fund was created to provide investment to shovel-ready infrastructure projects across the country that will help boost regional economic growth, fuel local recovery and create jobs.

“NewcastleGateshead Quays is a hugely significant project not just for Gateshead, but the North East LEP region as a whole. The £290m regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to our local economy.”

£5m from the Getting Building Fund has been awarded towards the creation of a new North South link road in Baltic Quarter. The new road will connect Gateshead Quays with the A184 and Quarryfield Road, leading to the Felling Bypass and across to the Freight Depot strategic housing site. The plans also include a new Green Blue corridor, containing new landscaped walking and cycling routes, and the provision of habitats that encourage biodiversity.

A further £2m has been awarded towards critical infrastructure works around the construction of the new arena, exhibition and conference centre, hotels, multi-storey car park, and public spaces.

The planned Arena and Conference and Exhibition Centre project has previously been awarded £5m through the Local Growth Fund in 2017.

Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader, Gateshead Council said: “A lot of time, hard work and commitment has been put into producing a plan for the growth and prosperity of Gateshead and the region. These funds will be vital in achieving our ambitions for the wider Quays project and borough as a whole. We are aiming to future proof Gateshead and improve connectivity and infrastructure. This investment will go some way to realising those plans and help attract leisure and business visitors to the North East.”

The North East LEP region was awarded £47m through the Getting Building Fund with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership increasing the fund to £55m by releasing an additional £8m from the North East Investment Fund.

The 17 projects put forward for the North East LEP area are expected to create more than 4,000 construction and permanent jobs; unlock more than 19,000 sqm of commercial space; assist more than 3,000 learners; improve or construct 4.2km of roads, cycle lanes and walkways; and further strengthen the North East’s green energy sector.

The government’s £900m Getting Building Fund was announced in August 2020 as part of its package of support to kick-start the economy, create jobs and help areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information about the Getting Building Fund, visit www.gov.uk.

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£40,000 boost for North East retirement saving trials

The Department for Work and Pensions has today announced a £40,000 funding boost in the North East to help people take stock of their health, skills and wealth as part of later life planning.

With the pandemic impacting people’s lives in different ways, many will already be reviewing their current situation – including those wanting a fuller working life, those able to put more into their savings after a period of working from home, or those looking to improve their resilience for the future.

At a time where many are worried about job security, the “mid-life MOTs” will enable people to identify the skills they will need for the job journey they want, helping them make more informed choices and build their future financial resilience. This initiative will help workers to plan for the future they want.

Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion Guy Opperman said: “It’s no secret I am a huge fan of this idea and I’m excited to see the results of the North East LEP’s trials.

“While we started work on this before the pandemic, the last twelve months have bought people’s financial resilience into sharp focus – making a mid-life MOT a timely exercise for many.

“And it’s not just about retirement savings but also about enabling people to enjoy a fuller working life by helping them understand the skills they will need to learn along the way.”

The North East LEP is partnering with Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, to explore how to embed digital inclusion into promotion and take-up of a Mid-Life MOT in communities and with local employers.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP said: “In a region where employment rates have had the largest impact on 50-64 year olds, and Ofcom data shows that only 18 percent of people use the internet fully, the North East pilot will help people to overcome digital exclusion to access the online toolkit to assess their skills, health and finance and better plan for their futures.”

The trials will help the DWP understand:

  • The actions individuals take as a result of undertaking the mid-life MOT;
  • The user needs among those most at risk of experiencing long term unemployment;
  • The effectiveness of using local delivery channels and how these can complement the Money and Pensions Service (MAPs), the National Careers Service (NCS) and Public Health England (PHE), in supporting individuals with later life planning.

The funding given to the North East LEP is just one of ten to be given to LEPs across England. Each will receive up to £40,000 to develop, and implement, the mid-life MOT trials.

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Investment in sites unlocks up to 4,000 new jobs in the North East

Across the North East, work is underway to transform land into top quality locations for businesses and bring more skilled jobs to the region. Ben McLaughlin, Programme Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), explains how.

Since 2013, more than 1,600 jobs have been created in the North East, and it’s estimated that 2,400 more will be added over the next two years, thanks to investment by the North East LEP and partners in the region’s network of Enterprise Zone sites.

Over £166 million is expected to be invested by the North East LEP in these high quality development sites by 2025, in order to support the creation of more and better jobs in key sectors for the North East, including the automotive industry, offshore and subsea, and the energy sector.

Enterprise Zones are previously under-utilised sites which are made ready for businesses by investing in key infrastructure such as road links, utilities and digital connectivity – getting them investment-ready so to speak. They’re situated in some of the most desirable locations in our region, with excellent access to transport links, quayside locations, and proximity to ready-made supply chains which mean that investors can hit the ground running.

Here in the North East, we have more than 300 hectares of land that’s earmarked as Enterprise Zones and since 2013, we’ve seen these sites take shape, and businesses start to reap the benefits of moving into first-class office spaces and manufacturing sites.

The locations of our Enterprise Zones are also closely aligned to some of the areas of strategic importance which are named in the North East Strategic Economic Plan, including the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors.

In Sunderland for example, the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) is located north of the Nissan manufacturing plant, and provides a world-class, shovel-ready site for advanced manufacturing businesses. Follingsby Park North in Gateshead and Jade Business Park in Durham have also recently become home to manufacturing companies.

Around the banks of the River Tyne, the Neptune Energy Park in Newcastle has attracted a group of businesses operating in the subsea and offshore sectors, and the Holborn 2 in the Port of Tyne will soon be home to operations and maintenance activities for the Dogger Bank offshore development. Similarly, around the Blyth Estuary, Enterprise Zone sites at the Port of Blyth Bates Terminal and at Northumberland Energy Park will provide ideal space for emerging opportunities in the offshore and subsea sectors.

The Enterprise Zones have also supported high quality office developments close to Newcastle Airport, in the centre of Blyth and at the Centre for Innovation (CFI) building on the former Swan Hunters site in North Tyneside. There are further plans for more office space to be created on sites such as Holborn in South Tyneside.

Not only will jobs be created as businesses move into the new Enterprise Zones sites, but hundreds of people have already been employed in the construction industry, putting in the required buildings and infrastructure, readying the sites for their new tenants.

These sites are playing a critical role in supporting the North East’s economic growth, and they’re also bringing back to life former industrial areas, like power stations and shipyards; making them ready for today’s businesses and tomorrow’s innovators.

Find out more about the North East’s Enterprise Zones here.

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CHALLENGE NORTH EAST LEADS ON INNOVATIVE COVID-19 SOLUTIONS

A challenge that called on North East businesses to generate innovative solutions to the Covid-19 crisis has reached a milestone moment.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) asked the regional business community for answers to Coronavirus-related problems through Challenge North East, a new open innovation programme.

The programme saw the LEP offer funding and development support to SMEs whose ideas could help the North East adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 in two specific areas – delivering safe and engaging in-person events; and safely adapting in-home services.

Launched last year, Challenge North East was co-designed in consultation with business partners across the region to identify the key challenges posed by Covid-19 that North East SMEs could potentially develop innovative solutions to.

Over 60 businesses entered their ideas to the programme. A cohort of 16 SMEs received up to £5,000 of full funding and support to develop their solutions through Challenge North East’s co-design programme, working with business partners to quickly develop a prototype and test their solutions.

The finalists will pitch their ideas to an independent panel at the end of March to win up to £40,000 in further funding. All 16 SMEs will be given support and guidance to further their ideas.

Challenge North East is delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley and Sunderland Software City.

Sarah Cox, Programme Director of Challenge North East, said: “It’s been fantastic to see the strength of the ideas that have come through from such a diverse group of businesses. There are some really innovative solutions that have the potential for multiple applications. Particularly impressive is the way many of the solutions offer economic and also social benefits, helping some of our most vulnerable communities.

“We have also been heartened by level of engagement from large regional organisations and our challenge supporters who helped us understand the problems they are facing and  and their willingness to support SMEs as they develop and test solutions with real-world applications.”

Alison Freer, Innovation Manager at Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “Challenge North East is very much a collaborative effort with our delivery partners and challenge supporters, pooling respective strengths and experience to champion the creativity and hard work of SMEs.

“The level of innovation demonstrated by the businesses involved has been inspiring. We are delighted to play our part in helping participants to develop their solutions in response to Covid disruption and find new market opportunities in doing so.”

Alan Welby, Director of Innovation at the North East LEP, said: “Covid-19 has been incredibly disruptive and had forced us to entirely change the way we live our lives.

“Challenge North East champions innovative solutions to this by drawing on the vast amount of talent and expertise in our region. By tapping into the potential of our people and organisations, we will find the solutions we need to rise to the challenges of these trying times.”

Some of the SMEs involved pivoted to adapt existing products and services to address Covid-19-related challenges, while others built entirely novel solutions based on their areas of capability and expertise.

This design-led innovation saw a wide range of imaginative solutions generated, ranging from process innovation, to digital platforms and physical products, all designed to help society adapt to Covid-19.

Organisations supporting Challenge North East include The Baltic, Beamish Museum, The Sage Gateshead and Sodexo along with Northern Gas Networks, ESH Group, Karbon Homes, Beyond Housing.

Challenge North East has received funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund. The Local Growth Fund is supporting capital investments to promote innovation, economic and skills infrastructure and sustainable transport as part of the North East Growth Deal.

Ends

 

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Funding awarded to develop new energy systems in the North East

Three North East SMEs have been awarded funding to develop new energy systems which will help organisations to reduce their carbon emissions.

Capability North East, Jumping Rivers and Smart Carbon Ltd have each been awarded £20,000 through the North East Energy Catalyst’s Energy Innovation Challenge, which supports businesses to bring new energy products to market.

This is in addition to £100,000 of funding which was awarded to five other SMEs in late 2020.

David Lynch, Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: The North East excels in innovating, demonstrating and delivering new solutions which can help drive economic growth in the region while solving global energy challenges, such as the need to reduce carbon emissions.

“The Energy Innovation Challenge was designed to maximise on our region’s skills and expertise by using the insight of the North East Energy Catalyst – a partnership of the region’s leading energy innovation, demonstration and delivery capabilities – to create a series of challenges for SMEs which aimed to identify solutions to energy issues which can be scaled up nationally or globally.”

Capability North East received funding for its Genee platform – a system helps businesses, NGOs and public sector organisations to plan their Net Zero journey, monitoring and recording their sustainability progress over time.

Jumping Rivers’ Newcastle-based team is recognised internationally for helping global businesses, governments and SMEs to harness untapped value from their data. The team is developing a power cost system called ECODATA which can help major energy users such as campuses, schools and business centres understand their electricity tariffs, minimising costs and supporting the transition to a green energy system.

The third business to be awarded funding is Smartcarbon Ltd, which is developing a carbon calculator to meet the needs of multinational businesses and their entire supply chain.

Round three of the Energy Innovation Challenge is currently underway, with submissions from North East SMEs currently being assessed.

The North East Energy Catalyst is supported by ERDF and the Energy Innovation Challenge received grant funding from the government’s Local Growth Fund via the North East LEP.

Find out more about the North East Energy Catalyst.