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Universities key to North East’s economic recovery

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

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

The Group has recently published its economic response summary report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crowdfund North East LEP: Flintlab

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 Flintlab – coworking and office space in Gosforth, Newcastle – that has benefited from Crowdfund North East LEP.

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

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

Hello I’m Paul Alderson, founder of Flintlab. Flintlab opened in Gosforth 18 months ago to provide an affordable and flexible place to work. It soon became a hub of local, independent businesses and we even won an award.

When Coronavirus hit we had to close our doors. We’re now ready to re-open having made changes to the space already, including removing desks, adjusting layouts to enable social distancing, and installing sanitisation stations throughout the building.

But we need to go further to prepare for the future. The crowdfunded support will make it possible for us to create a more contactless entrance and exit, develop our desks into ‘pods’ to enable video meetings without disturbing co-workers, and improve our outdoor space for more year-round use.

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

Setting up a crowdfunder can be done quickly but it’s worth investing some time. After all you’re asking for pledges from supporters who might not know you to ensure you can serve them in the future. We took time to ensure we had the right messages, supporting images, and rewards to offer a good range to encourage our customers to pledge.

With the crowdfunder ready to launch we applied for the North East LEP’s match funding through the form in crowdfunder. As we had all the content already in our campaign applying was really easy and only took a few minutes. Knowing that we had the LEP on board early after launching helped us to drive the campaign forward.

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

The match funding will make a huge difference. As a coworking space, we’re here to support our local business community. Pledges from our supporters will help to cover our costs in the short term and allow some minor improvements. The North East LEP match funding provides a huge boost for us to be able to make changes which will impact the space and provide our current – and new – coworkers with the confidence to come back to Flintlab.

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

Without hesitation. Every business can benefit and with the proper consideration and planning, crowdfunding can be an exciting project for both your business and your customers. It’s a great way to show everyone that you’re committed to driving your business forward – and that they can play an important role in supporting your business.

You can visit Flintlab’s crowdfunder page by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crowdfund North East LEP: Shoe Tree Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely! What have you got to lose?

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Supporting innovative North East firms to help lead the region’s economic recovery

The North East LEP is hosting a special event to help the North East’s innovation and technology sector understand and ask questions about the newly announced Future Fund.

Innovation, digital and technology-led businesses will power the engine that drives growth in the UK economy, and help lead the country’s, and our region’s, financial recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The presence and potential of technology startups is an indicator of a healthy, ambitious and resilient economy. These innovative, high potential firms feed cycles – they are a route to retaining and attracting talent in a place; they create the scale-ups of tomorrow; they can establish and support ecosystems for entrepreneurs to invest back into, which in turn attracts more entrepreneurs to a region. They build the technological innovations that will create jobs; develop supply chains; become our next exports.

This is why the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury has announced a financial support package – Future Fund – to protect UK businesses driving innovation and development from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Future Fund

Launching today (Wednesday 20 May), Future Fund will give high-growth companies across the UK the investment they need to continue during this crisis. Providing loans between £125,000 and £5m from the government, private investors are required to at least match the government commitment. Future Fund is delivered through the British Business Bank.

Supporting North East businesses to access funding

To help our region’s dynamic businesses bid for funding, the North East LEP is hosting a webinar to explore the specifics of the Future Fund, including eligibility criteria and the application process. This is an opportunity to hear directly from regional investors and operators, including Northstar Ventures and SeedLegals. Tech founder and entrepreneur, Paul Smith, will chair the event.

The webinar will take place at 2pm on Thursday 28 May. For further information and to register your place, please visit the eventbrite page.

We welcome registrations from technology start-ups, investors, founders and innovation-led firms across all sectors.

Looking to the future of the sector

As well as discussing the immediate funding opportunity to support businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, we will also be using this event to take a longer-term view of the digital/tech/innovation sector in the North East and explore barriers to its growth.

The North East digital strategy recognises the huge importance of our tech community, which is driven, passionate and entrepreneurial. We want to support more of this by enabling greater cross-sectoral collaboration and raising the profile of our tech sector with investors and collaborators – from across the region and beyond.

We want to strengthen the relationship between creativity and innovation to maximise the translation of ideas into new products, solutions and businesses. And we want to support the wider ecosystem so that we see more innovative start-ups launching, flourishing and staying in the North East.

Join us on 28 May at 2pm to learn more about government’s support for innovative businesses and discuss how we, as a sector, can build the right environment for high growth businesses to thrive in the North East.

By Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Crowdfund North East LEP: Heatherslaw Light Railway Company

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 Heatherslaw Light Railway Company – a narrow gauge steam railway tourist attraction based in North Northumberland – who have 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’re fundraising through Crowdfunder.

“I’m Darrell Smith and I’m the finance director of Heatherslaw Light Railway Company, a narrow gauge steam railway tourist attraction based just over the River Till from the Heatherslaw Cornmill in North Northumberland.

“We’re a family business; my father started the company 30 years ago. We employ five full-time members of staff and some seasonal workers too.

“As a seasonal business, we rely on the busy spring/summer period to carry us through the winter. Having been told we can’t open, we’re left with a hole in our revenue. Despite receiving grant funding from the Local Authority under the business rate relief scheme, as well as participating in the Government backed COVID-19 guaranteed loan scheme, our business would have struggled to survive without using Crowdfunder.”

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

“It was great, refreshingly clear and easy. It’s a really good platform and very easy to get your message across.”

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

“It gives us two-three months of covering costs until we can open again. It’ll be the difference between exceeding the overdraft limit, and not. It will also help us manage the lower visitor numbers we’re expecting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Over the winter we have a lot of statutory maintenance works to carry out in preparation of opening in the spring/summer, where we make our revenue.

“As a key attraction for the local area, we attract over 30,000 visitors to the estate, which helps to supports jobs in other local businesses.

“The response to the Crowdfunder has been amazing. Someone donated £400 anonymously and another person donated £500 to have his daughter’s name put on a carriage.”

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

“It depends on the businesses, but as long as you meet the criteria and have goodwill amongst your customers then yes, why wouldn’t you? If you’re providing something people value, it’s the ideal platform. It’s very easy to set up.”

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Colin Bell, Business Growth Director, explains how the North East Growth Hub is working to reduce the impact of Coronavirus on our regional businesses

Right now is a time of anxiety for many people and business owners due to the impact of Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Here at the North East Growth Hub we are geared up to provide as much support as we can – and working hard to do more.

Right now, our focus is on updating the North East Growth Hub Coronavirus toolkit so you have access to the very latest information, as well as providing direct one to one support to businesses to help them navigate the measures Government are putting in place.

This includes details of the latest financial support and how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, through to managing remote working and knowing your employees’ rights.

We are also working closely with our partners in local and national Government, academia and the private and third sectors to mobilise a combined response which puts your needs at the heart of all activity and ensures one voice and message is heard by Government.

This collaborative approach includes our Local Authorities and the North East Combined Authority, as well as membership organisations such as the CBI, FSB, Dynamo, Developing Consensus, Make, Entrepreneurs’ Forum and more.

How you can play your part

At this uncertain time, everyone has a role to play. Please help us develop our response by letting us know what you need.

Right now, we need to understand exactly what is impacting your business so we can share this with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to help them inform the measures put in place and improve the support offered.

You can do this by completing this short survey here.

In it together

The North East is known for its collaborative spirit and resilience. Please be assured the North East LEP will continue to lead from the front and share valuable information so you can do what you can to keep your business moving forward and protect employees.

Please do use the North East Growth Hub toolkit, fill in the survey and if needed, make a one to one virtual appointment with one of our Connectors. We are here to help.