An update from the Rural Growth Network

Antony Braithwaite, Chair of the North East Farming and Rural Affairs Network (NEFRAN), gives an update on the progress of the North East Rural Growth Network, three years after its creation.

The Rural Growth Network (RGN) pilot project began in 2012 with £3.2m of funding for the North East from Defra and during the past three years the RGN has been testing ways of overcoming barriers to economic growth in the North East’s rural areas.

As well as working on identifying the key issues which face businesses in rural areas, the project had some ambitious targets to achieve in its first three years and I’m delighted that these have been achieved and even surpassed.

The North East RGN aimed to support the creation of 300 new jobs and 40 new businesses. In fact, the RGN exceeded both these targets, and nearly 200 new businesses have been helped to establish themselves in our rural areas. The RGN has assisted more than 1,000 businesses with either financial support or business advice, and the original objective of helping to set up 53 new enterprise spaces has again been almost doubled, with more than 100 new spaces being created at 13 business hub sites.

The North East pilot programme also supported Rural Connect, a network of rural business hubs which share learning and collectively promote rural business facilities in the region.

Now we’re entering the second phase of the North East RGN which will build on the pilot programme, providing further capital investment in the rural economy, supporting employment and business growth, and also working with NEFRAN to help define the North East LEP’s strategic priorities for resources allocated to the LEP area from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Over the next four years the North East LEP is providing £6m from its Growth Deal Local Growth Fund to enable the RGN to make available support to businesses via the Rural Small Business Development Grant and the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund.

The first of these funds is available to support up to 40% of the cost of capital developments which can lead to the creation of more jobs in the region’s rural economy. The Rural Small Business Development Grant will come on stream later this year and is open to businesses in sectors from food, drink and manufacturing to the creative industries.

One project recently supported by the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund is The Sill which received a £1m investment into the new national landscape discovery centre which will create at least 120 jobs and contribute almost £5m in visitor spending to the North East economy each year.

We saw fantastic progress made during the three year pilot and the North East RGN now has the opportunity to continue to work with the North East LEP to build on what’s already been achieved and continue to support the North East’s rural economy.

You can find out more about the Rural Small Business Development Grant and the current call for more Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund projects here .