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How the Local Growth Fund helped North East businesses diversify during the coronavirus pandemic

In March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic escalated in the UK, there soon became an immediate and urgent need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

To help meet demand, government encouraged companies up and down the country to pivot their businesses to manufacture and supply PPE.

To support businesses in the North East LEP region to join the national COVID-19 effort and produce Personal Protective Equipment, the North East LEP increased its budget from the Local Growth Fund to £1.9m to support the Supply Chain North East programme, which assists businesses to diversify their offering, expand their customer base and unlock untapped opportunities in new markets.

Businesses could apply for a capital grant to pivot their business and begin the manufacture and supply of PPE. In total, 32 businesses in the North East LEP area received funding.

They include County Durham-based IT company, Carbon8 Ltd. Following a significant reduction in sales as supply chains across the world were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the company decided to pivot its business completely to produce medical grade face masks. In May 2020 John Murphy, Director of Carbon8 Ltd, contacted Supply Chain North East to discuss what support was available to develop a new business model to incorporate the production of face masks.

Working with testing agencies as well as Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Carbon8 Ltd secured the required certification and accreditation and is now producing face masks to EN14683 IIR standards.

John Murphy, Director of Carbon8 Ltd, said: “I would definitely recommend Supply Chain North East to other businesses. The team were so helpful with the project and had excellent understanding of what I was trying to accomplish, and I really appreciated the suggestions that were given in relation to the business. At a very uncertain time, we were given other options to our business and now that we are in production, we are looking forward to increasing our production permanently with the help received.”

Another County Durham-based business, Newton Press, used LGF capital funding from Supply Chain North East to diversify its business to produce PPE screen guards for local businesses, the NHS and care homes.

The family-run publishing and printing business saw a sudden loss in demand for its products and services and chose to diversify in response to the coronavirus pandemic. After speaking to Supply Chain North East, Newton Press was able to access the funds to upgrade and recalibrate its equipment to produce a range of screen guards that met the individual needs and preferences of businesses. Its existing print facilities meant the company was able to offer clients the ability to brand screen guards with logos or instructions.

Stuart Howarth, Director of Newton Press, said: “We are very grateful to Supply Chain North East for the support to upgrade our equipment. It has played a major part in recovering sales and moving forward.”

Rocket Medical, an award-winning designer and manufacturer of single use medical devices based in Washington, Sunderland, was awarded LGF capital grant funding through Supply Chain North East to acquire and install new machinery to improve the speed, quality, accuracy of its production. The company produces a number of devices that are essential for the NHS’s COVID-19 response, resulting in a huge rise in demand.

Alan Hewett, Supply Chain North East Business Advisor at RTC North, said: “It was fantastic to be able to support Rocket Medical in this crucial time and assist their acquirement of additional equipment to automate a process and alleviate a ‘bottle neck’, which has helped the business to meet the demand posed by the COVID-19 situation in support of the healthcare sector.”

Andrew Moffat CBE, Chair of the Innovation Board at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic there was a huge amount of uncertainty, and businesses across our region were preparing for the worst. Many saw an immediate negative impact as supply chains were disrupted globally.

“The decision to invest further in Supply Chain North East and assist businesses to diversify their offering was in direct response to this. The Local Growth Fund supports the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to grow a more productive, inclusive and sustainable North East economy and create 100,000 more and better jobs for the region. By helping businesses pivot to manufacture and supply PPE we were able to protect, and in some cases, create new jobs.

“The investment from the Local Growth Fund has supported 32 businesses to continue trading and, importantly, create a new revenue stream that is contributing to the North East’s economic recovery.”

The Local Growth Fund has invested more than £270m in major capital projects across all seven North East LEP local authority areas since 2015. Projects include the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) in Sunderland and South Tyneside, The Biosphere life sciences building on Newcastle Helix, the South Shields bus and Metro Transport Interchange in South Tyneside, and The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre in Northumberland National Park.

The Local Growth Fund supports the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to grow a more productive, inclusive and sustainable North East economy and create 100,000 more and better jobs for the region.

All £270.1m from the Local Growth Fund has now been allocated in the North East LEP region, with all in-progress projects due to reach completion by 2024.

Projects supported through the Local Growth Fund help drive innovation, improve support for businesses, support economic inclusion, and either help develop skills infrastructure or enhance strategic transport sites and public transport infrastructure.

To find out more about the Local Growth Fund, visit https://www.northeastlep.co.uk/funding.

To find out more about Supply Chain North East, visit www.supplychainnortheast.co.uk.

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South Tyneside Council awarded £3m from government to support The Glassworks office development

South Tyneside Council has been awarded £3m from government’s Getting Building Fund to support the creation of a proposed state of the art, glass-fronted riverside office building in the town.

The Glassworks – subject to planning permission – will be built on former brownfield land in the Harton Quay area of South Shields and provide 50,000 sq ft of Grade A office accommodation. It will aim to be one of the first near-net carbon zero office buildings in the North East.

The Getting Building Fund – managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – is part of government’s package of financial support to kick-start the economy, create jobs and help areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East LEP, said: “The Glassworks will be an important new development by South Tyneside Council and an excellent example of the type of project the region needs to help support our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the increase in people working from home because of COVID-19, there is still demand for quality and affordable office accommodation in the region.

“The scheme will build on recent North East LEP investments in the town, including the new South Shields Transport Interchange and Nexus Learning Centre.

“The Getting Building Fund is designed to get major infrastructure projects moving quickly, so we can start to see our economy and employment rates return to pre-COVID levels.”

Spread over five storeys, The Glassworks will form part of the new living, working and cultural quarter in Harton Quay, and link to South Shields’ town centre.

Cllr Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “We’re delighted to have secured this funding through the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

“We hope that The Glassworks will start the transformation of a vacant site into a bustling quarter, attracting new businesses to the town and helping to generate jobs for local people.

“It would be another milestone in our ambitions for South Shields and complement the considerable investment that has already gone into this area.”

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 18 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 to provide investment in shovel-ready infrastructure projects across the country.

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

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In conversation with Liz Bromley, CEO of leading national college group NCG

How has NCG, and the broader education sector in the North East, had to adapt and change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

Since the start of the pandemic there have been many policy changes. These have fluctuated from ‘colleges are open’ and ‘colleges are closed’ to ‘colleges are partially closed but open to vulnerable students and children of key workers’. Following this last lockdown, the category of vulnerable young learners has expanded to include those that have limited access to IT or study space.

We’ve been really challenged by the constant changes in guidance and we’ve had to make sure that whatever the scenario, we can continue with the core business of educating our students without it being too difficult for them to engage with us.

The biggest shift has been digital transformation; we’re now able to teach 100 per cent remotely, in the same way we can work 100 per cent remotely. We’ve had to be really mindful that while most staff have access to good quality laptops, strong broadband connections and IT support, that’s not necessarily the case for all our students. So we’ve had to be fleet of foot and responsive to policy changes, but also really holistic in terms of thinking about what digital transformation means.

We’ve also had to adapt where it comes to exams. In 2020 GCSE and A Levels were cancelled. We were then told, categorically, that GSCE and A Levels would take place in summer 2021, and now we’ve been told that they won’t.

Throughout all of this we’ve been delivering vocational skills and BTECs – which are quite often the ones employers are most interested in – and they’ve almost been forgotten about. Ultimately, we’ve had to make some really big decisions to fill the gaps in guidance and policy.

Do you envisage some of the changes continuing when COVID-19 restrictions are eventually lifted?

Absolutely. Rye Hill House – which sits at the top of the campus of Newcastle College – is where my office is, along with the rest of the NCG senior and core central services teams. We’ve done some sums in terms of how much money we can save by not running that site as a head office anymore and actually opening it up to employers, to apprentices and to enterprise. Yes, people will still be able to go into the office, but it will be a hot desk environment.

NCG has seven colleges; two in London, one in the Midlands, two in the North West and two in North East. I would normally get round and visit each of those sites over the course of a fortnight. Well now I can visit them all in one day, and I can do all of that without spending anything on mileage, train fares, or hotel costs. The way we work now is much more cost effective, and much quicker.

The combined effect is that NCG is contributing to the green agenda by creating less vehicle emissions, using less electricity and gas to keep our buildings warm, and not travelling, unnecessarily, around the country. All of those things are making us think about cost efficiency, decarbonisation and contributing to the green industrial revolution.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted teaching and learning at NCG?

If a year ago someone had said to me, ‘do you think you should set up a strategic project to try and get NCG into blended learning and flexible working?’, it would probably have taken us around 24-36 months to roll it out.

In March 2020 the country went into lockdown and within ten days we were teaching remotely. We were also working remotely and becoming competent at this. That whole mindset around big strategic decisions taking years to implement has changed; through necessity we’ve proven this is not the case.

Our fantastic teachers, who may have never thought online tuition was a feasible option, are doing fabulous things with online platforms. Many of them are using YouTube, for example, to record videos of themselves cutting hair, applying beauty techniques, dancing, and even building brick walls. All our teachers have learned how to deliver what they do in a classroom at home, with a camera.

I think the pandemic has demonstrated that teaching and learning is there for all of us. Even when we’re working we can learn very quickly to educate ourselves and work in new ways.

Of course we’ve had to be really conscious of the quality. When everything is face-to-face it’s very easy to drop into a classroom and look at students’ faces and know if they’re engaged. Online it’s much harder, so we’ve had to be inventive in terms of our quality assurance. We’ve launched lots of student engagement surveys so we’re getting feedback in a variety of ways to make sure the teaching and learning is fit for purpose.

Until the coronavirus pandemic there were just two functional skills our students needed, maths and English. Well now there are three – English, maths and digital literacy. We’re now in a world where if you are not digitally literate you are as illiterate as someone that can’t spell or add up. The whole area of digital literacy in helping people become employable is another change to our teaching and learning.

The big question is what this means for the future curriculum and skills. What are jobs post-pandemic and post-Brexit going to look like? They’re certainly not going to look how they did twelve months ago. What happens to our travel, tourism and hospitality sector, for example? These are all things we are focusing on and need to address.

Has the coronavirus pandemic led to a change in the skills and/or qualifications businesses are looking for?

There are some great examples of this. In the construction industry, for example – where you might think digital literacy isn’t as important – we are now considering the shape of construction of the future and more sustainable methods of building. The green agenda very much impacts on the way we think about architecture and constructions materials of the future.

The same discussion is happening around motor vehicles and today’s focus has changed to electric. And where we have our Rail Academy, we need to be thinking about hydrogen trains of the future.

We’ve been having some very interesting conversations around travel and tourism. What if tourism trends focus on staycations? How do we recalibrate the curriculum to adapt to a post-COVID world where more people are conscious about the impacts of travel, and might want to focus more on the UK as a holiday destination.

In short, the pandemic has caused us to reframe our curriculum so that it absolutely meets regional and employers’ needs. We need businesses to help shape this so we can provide them with graduates who are employable and have the right technical skills for a future world.

How can colleges and the education sector support the economic recovery of the North East?

Education is an important gap filler when people are unemployed, but to make it more than that we need to make sure we’re reskilling and up-skilling people. We need to understand what employers see as the skills gaps and educate people to fill them.

We also need to think about skills for the workplace, which many of our young people are simply not learning because they’re working from home. For a huge number of new school leavers and new graduates, their first job is in their bedroom. They’re not learning skills like how to contribute in meetings, how to take notes, how to respond to body language and other non verbal cues from managers and senior staff members. They’re not learning about the politics of the office.

It’s not just about the technical skills for the workplace, it’s also about making sure that young people are really ready to engage in a professional context. Again, we need employers to help us with that.

How can businesses in the North East work more closely with NCG?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve repurposed Rye Hill House so it now houses our Apprenticeship Hub, Enterprise Hub and our new Synergy Hub.

The Synergy Hub is where we really want employers from the Newcastle and Gateshead area to come in and interact with our staff, students, and curriculum developers so they’re helping us deliver the right curriculum to match the business need.

We are looking at being far more open and inviting employers to come in and really be at the heart of the curriculum offer. We want to work in partnership with businesses and big employers to create national apprenticeship schemes with lots of options for different qualifications at different levels.

Further education is being mooted as the key to economic recovery post Brexit and post-COVID. But we can’t be the key to economic recovery if we aren’t doing it in partnership with employers. For me, having employers at the heart of what we do, what we plan, and how we deliver our curriculum, is absolutely essential.

We’re really keen for employers to contact us and talk to us about their wants, their needs, their ideas, and we will do our level best to work in partnership to deliver them.

How is NGC supporting the call for a green recovery from COVID-19, inline with government’s green industrial revolution and the UK’s target to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050?

We’re doing it in two ways; one, as an employer of two and a half thousand staff across the country, and two, as an educator of forty five thousand students across the country.

We want to make sure that what we do as an employer and a workforce contributes to the net zero carbon emissions target. We want to travel less, we want to use less building space, and we want to be more innovative in the ways we engage with people.

We also want to teach the courses of the future that will enable our students to think greener and more sustainably. For example, opening up courses that focus on conservation, agriculture, woodland management, and considering how a green industrial revolution feeds into construction, automotive, rail, travel and tourism, and the food and catering parts of our offer.

How do we reframe our energy courses so they’re looking at more sustainable energy sources, like wind farming and subsea, and less at traditional methods?

So I think we do it both ways; by practicing what we teach by being a good workforce and a good employer, but also teaching what is needed to make sure this green revolution is supported by the FE sector.

Liz Bromley is CEO of leading national college group NCG.

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New business survey launched to assess impact of EU exit and coronavirus pandemic in the North East

The beginning of 2021 has been a challenging start to the year for many businesses. England entered another national lockdown at the end of December, and the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 December brought new rules and regulations impacting all businesses that operate in the European Union.

Because of this we have launched a brand new survey on the North East Growth Hub to find out how our region’s businesses have been impacted by the UK’s new trading agreement with the EU, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We want to find out what preparations, planning and changes organisations have been able to make during this very difficult time.

All the information shared with us will be fed back to government, ensuring North East businesses get the help and support they need.

One of the main things we want to understand is how the UK’s exit from the EU – and its new trading agreement with the bloc – has affected businesses in the North East. We know from previous surveys that many regional businesses had not prepared for the new rules, which came into force on 01 January this year. We’d like to know what the impact has been in areas such as customs procedures, paperwork relating to imports and exports, supply chain disruption, and data storage and transfer. We are also keen to know if this has opened up any new opportunities for businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be the main concern for most businesses in the North East. A large proportion of our region’s businesses have been forced to close because of the new national lockdown, and business owners have to – once again – look to new, innovative ways to engage with their customers.

Through this new survey we’d like to understand what measures businesses have taken to shield some of the impact of COVID-19; whether that’s been through stockpiling, furloughing staff, adopting new technologies, or introducing new products and services.

We’d also like to know if businesses plan to retain any of the changes they’ve made after we emerge from the pandemic, for example, remote working, or a greater focus on online retail.

Businesses can also let us know if they have benefitted from any of the government’s financial interventions, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, and grant payments. Importantly, we’d like to know from businesses if they think some of these measures should continue.

The final part of the survey focuses on business resilience. We know many North East businesses have made huge changes to adapt to our current situation, and we’d like to know the type of measures businesses have introduced. It could be a greater investment in IT and digital, more focus on crisis planning, investing in staff training, or introducing e-commerce. Whatever changes businesses have made, we’d like to know what they are and how effective they’ve been.

All the information we gather through this new survey will help us deliver the right support, to the right businesses, at the right time. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and all the information supplied will be treated confidentially.

You can access the Understanding how EU Transition and COVID-19 is impacting your business survey via this link.

Thank you in advance for sharing your feedback. If you have any questions about the survey you can contact us by emailing [email protected].

And do please remember that North East businesses looking for free, impartial, one-to-one business support and advice can book an appointment with our Growth Hub Connectors via www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk. The Growth Hub Connect team can guide you through the business support, and finance and funding available to help your business thrive in 2021.

By Emma Ward, Research and Evaluation Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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North East LEP joins public in safeguarding 120 local businesses through Crowdfunder campaign

Members of the public, together with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), have helped safeguard 120 businesses and protect over 350 jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

In May of this year, the North East LEP announced a partnership with Crowdfunder UK, which meant it would award up to £5,000 in match funding to crowdfund campaigns launched by small businesses in the North East LEP area.  The fund was set up in partnership with Crowdfunder UK to provide additional support to businesses, charities, social enterprises and sole traders unable to access government funding, and those forced to close or struggling to trade because of lockdown restrictions.

To date, the North East LEP has awarded £400,000 through the scheme, in addition to the £495,000 raised by almost 10,000 generous members of the public who have supported local businesses’ appeals through the Crowdfund North East LEP campaign.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “Every business in every sector of industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s some of our region’s smaller businesses and enterprises that have struggled the most – particularly those that haven’t been able to adapt as quickly as others, leaving them vulnerable to redundancies and closure.

“The generosity and support from members of the public through crowdfund campaigns has been a lifeline for many small businesses, and as part of our package of support for North East businesses during the coronavirus crisis we wanted to ensure more vital funding reached these organisations.

“Through Crowdfund North East LEP on Crowdfunder UK’s website, we’ve been able to support businesses in every part of our region, and across a range of sectors; including tourism, sports, hospitality, the arts, music, and charities.”

Recipients include vegan and vegetarian café, Shoe Tree Café, in Heaton, Newcastle. The match funding from the North East LEP helped the owners diversify the business so it could continue to trade safely during the pandemic.

Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team used Crowdfund North East LEP to ensure the voluntary emergency service could remain on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cutting costs.

And Heatherslaw Light Railway Company, a narrow-gauge steam railway tourist attraction based in North Northumberland, used the funds raised through the crowdfund campaign to ensure the family business could reopen after lockdown.

Support is still available for small businesses in the North East LEP area through Crowdfund North East LEP until the end of December 2020. More information about the scheme, including how to apply, is available here.

Rob Love, CEO, Crowdfunder said: “Businesses have already faced an extremely challenging time during the first lockdown. We have also seen incredible resilience: small businesses have adapted and pivoted their offerings in order to keep trading. By crowdfunding and gaining match-funding from the LEP they can maintain cash flow and stay connected to their customer base which is vital if they are to bounce back quickly once this is all over. The North East LEP match funding helps to take the pressure off small businesses and enables many to protect their staff and livelihoods. We are ready and able to work with any LEP or Local Authority that is able to do the same.”

Crowdfund North East LEP is just one of the ways the North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been supporting businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The North East LEP is the founding member of the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was established at the start of the pandemic to ensure the North East has strong economic leadership that acts quickly and collaboratively to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

The group is made up of the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, with the support of industry. The group recently submitted its ambitious North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, which asks for £2.8 billion investment to unlock half for the 100,000 more jobs required to support North East recovery quickly. Find out more about the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.


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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.

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Universities support North East’s economic recovery: Ethical hackers help boost businesses’ digital resilience

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 Northumbria University about its computing students, who recently tested how well-prepared local businesses are for potential cyber-attacks by attempting to hack into their IT systems.

Part of a group of ‘ethical hackers’, the specially-trained students from Northumbria University’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences and innovative Cyber Clinic, attempt to bypass online security systems in order to identify potential threats or weaknesses, which could be exploited by real-life malicious hackers.

The undergraduates were employed as cyber security consultants for the newly launched North East Business Resilience Centre (NEBRC), a non-profit organisation that supports and helps protect businesses across the North East from cyber-crimes.

The NEBRC is a partnership between Northumbria, Cleveland, Durham, Humberside and the North West and South Yorkshire police forces, together with Northumbria and Sheffield Hallam universities.

The Northumbria University students are matched with local businesses where they spend time carrying out vulnerability assessments of businesses’ networks and web applications to identify any weaknesses in IT systems and computers.

They then produce a report outlining the steps that need to be taken to protect the business from real-life attacks.

Local businesses interested in becoming involved in the NEBRC, and employing the skills of the Northumbria University students, can visit nebrcentre.co.uk for more information.

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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Regional health innovation experts help Dräger UK secure multimillion-pound PPE deal

Blyth-based Dräger is due to begin a lucrative contract supplying the government with respiratory masks following support from three key regional organisations.

The Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC), the Innovation SuperNetwork and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) worked in collaboration to provide expert guidance to help strengthen Dräger’s pitch to government to supply the NHS with respiratory protection masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was announced last month that the government has now placed a multimillion-pound order with Dräger to supply respiratory protection masks (FFP3) over the course of this year and next.

The deal will bring investment and jobs into the region as the company plans to set up a mask production operation based in Blyth, Northumberland, alongside four other production sites across the globe.

Alex Duthie, UK Sales Director, Dräger, said: “The AHSN NENC were invaluable to our bid for the PPE Government contract. They were able to get our name to the right people and assisted in building our profile as an existing and trusted supplier within the NHS. Whenever an opportunity arose, the AHSN NENC, Innovation SuperNetwork and North East LEP were advocates of ours, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

The Innovation SuperNetwork contacted Dräger earlier this year after learning they were keen to open a PPE manufacturing plant in response to the growing demand for respiratory masks during the pandemic. The Innovation SuperNetwork then introduced the local Dräger team to the AHSN NENC, which is a key member of NHS England’s regional emergency response procurement cell.

The AHSN NENC worked closely with Dräger to develop a proposal around its manufacturing plans which was pitched to the regional and national leads involved in the NHS procurement cell.

In addition, the AHSN NENC also coordinated with NHS Trusts across the region to provide samples of Dräger’s products which received positive responses from the frontline.

Stephen Lynn, Business Manager at the AHSN NENC, said: “Gaining access to the NHS can be a difficult and daunting prospect for businesses. The AHSN NENC’s close links with the healthcare system allows us to act as a conduit to help open doors and speed up the process of innovations reaching the frontline.

“We are proud to have been able to support Dräger through this process and we’re delighted that the company is now in a position to expand its PPE manufacturing operation, which will bring vital investment and job opportunities into the region.

“This is a prime example of how by working collaboratively with partners across the region, we can quickly identify, develop and support businesses with innovations that have potential to make a real impact both within the health and care system and the regional economy.”

Steph Oxley, Innovation Manager at the Innovation SuperNetwork, initially supported Dräger and made the introduction to the AHSN NENC. She said: “The successful outcome for Dräger expanding their operation, after engaging with the NHS to understand the long term need for PPE, is a fantastic example of how collaboration across the innovation ecosystem can have immediate and long-term impact for businesses, industries and the local economy. The Innovation SuperNetwork works to embed innovation in key regional clusters, connecting industry with suppliers and enabling partnerships to further innovation and business growth. It’s great to see our intervention in this case led to such a positive result for all involved.”

Alan Welby, Director of Innovation at the North East LEP, said: “This is an excellent example of what can happen with strong leadership, a focus on collaboration and a determination to make things happen.

“It is fantastic to see Dräger secure this multimillion-pound PPE deal which will create many new jobs within the region – what a fantastic outcome from the crisis caused by COVID-19.”

Dräger’s order from the British government to deliver respiratory protection masks (FFP3) will start in 2020 and will stretch until the end of 2021. The expected net sales are roughly EUR 100 million.

A mask production facility will be set up in the UK, in the Blyth area of Northumberland. There, Dräger has had a development and production site for respiratory protection technology for firefighters and industry for over 50 years. This is in addition to the existing production network in Sweden and South Africa and the recently decided new production sites in France and the US. The investment in the expansion of production capacities across all five production sites will require a mid-double-digit million euro amount in the 2020 financial year.

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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.