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In conversation: Dinah Jackson discusses the Rural Growth Programme’s current funding calls

With more than £10 million to invest in businesses in the North East LEP area, Dinah Jackson, North East LEP Business Growth Programme Manager, outlines how the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme will unlock business investment across the region to create jobs and growth.

We’re thrilled to be able to announce that the deadline for submission of Expressions of Interest to the RDPE Growth Programme has been extended to 31 May 2018. This gives an additional four months for businesses to apply for three grants which are available: rural business development, rural tourism and food processing. The Growth Programme provides capital funding to support projects that invest in building businesses, creating new jobs and growing the economy in rural areas.

We’re extremely pleased with the decision to extend the deadline for the benefit of the rural economy. We hope that the grant will incentivise businesses to bring forward their investment plans despite the uncertainty of current times. Individual projects could be eligible for up to 40% grant funding in most cases, and in some cases a higher grant threshold is available (for some specific projects to build our rural tourism infrastructure).

With more than £10 million to invest in businesses in the North East LEP area, businesses are invited to submit expressions of interest as soon as possible to give the maximum amount of time available to deliver individual projects.

So what types of projects can the Growth Programme fund?

Here are some examples of the kinds of projects that could be eligible for a grant:

Rural business development grants – New equipment or machinery that creates productivity and efficiency gains, new premises or facilities that diversify farming activities

Food processing grants – Expansion of a meat cutting and processing plant to meet new international markets, a new milk processing facility or expansion to an existing soft fruit processing facility to enable processing of lower quality and lower value fruit to supply growing markets for end products

Rural tourism – New footpaths, bridleways or cycle paths, extending a local museum or new high quality visitor accommodation

We now need good strong applications from rural businesses, rural tourism businesses and food processing businesses to ensure that we maximise the economic benefit returned to the North East from the programme.

Here are some top tips that will help you progress your project to create growth and jobs:

How do you apply for a Growth Programme grant?

The first step is to identify whether you are eligible. It may sound overly simple, but if you don’t meet basic eligibility requirements, you cannot apply.

Are you an eligible business, located in an eligible area, intending to carry out eligible activities?

With the exception of applicants for food processing grants, your business must be located in the rural North East. You can use the postcode checker tool

Whilst all business development and tourism projects must be in the Rural Growth Network area, your food processing project might be eligible in the urban parts of our region, depending on the exact nature of your project.

The next stage is to follow carefully the advice provided by RPA.

Clearly written handbooks are available for each of the three calls provided by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), the grant administrator. The handbooks set out information on what activity is eligible (and what activities aren’t) and how to apply. They also give a summary of our local priorities for rural business growth. Your project will need to deliver against national and local priorities.

Each project will be considered on its own merit and the application process is competitive. This means grants are not awarded automatically to an applicant. The RPA will assess all expressions of interest to see which best meet the criteria. This is through a rigorous two-part application process (starting with submitting an ‘expression of interest’) to tell RPA about the work you’re doing and how the grant could help you with it.

If RPA assesses that your expression of interest is suitable, they will invite you to submit a full application.

Top tips for applicants

Before you start an application, here are some important reminders…

Jobs + growth + rural

Every successful application starts with a good idea and a clear plan for how to make that idea a reality. The whole aim of the RDPE Growth Programme is to create jobs and growth in the rural economy. Your application will need to show how your project will help do this.

Sell your idea

Explain clearly what your project does and how it will benefit the economy.
Show what the funding will mean to the success of your project. If you can show that your project is good value for money, and that you’re planning to use the grant money to improve your project, you’re more likely to produce a successful application.

Do the market research

Explain how there is real demand for what you want to do.

Be prepared

You will need to keep detailed records about your project, because you’ll have to provide proof (including detailed quotes) of how much the various elements of your project will cost.

An information event discussing the available funding, the types of projects funded and the application process will be held on Monday, 11 December at Wansbeck Workspace, Ashington. To book a place at this free event, click here.

For further information
For further help on growing your idea, see further information at www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk/finance-and-funding/department-for-environment-food-and-rural-affairs/rdpe-growth-programme/  call the Defra Helpline on 03000 200 301, or email the Growth Programme at [email protected]i.gov.uk.

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City Limits – Does location affect innovation?

Laura White, Communications Manager at the Innovation SuperNetwork, asks this question to John Hildreth, Business Growth and Investment Manager at Arch, Northumberland’s development company and member of the network.

Q. From market towns and industrial estates to far-flung farming communities and seaside spots, you work with businesses in a wide range of settings in Northumberland. Does location affect innovation?

Innovation knows no bounds. Not least the difference between the urban and rural economies. Government figures back up my personal experience as someone who works with rural businesses in Northumberland on a daily basis – these days location have little effect on levels of innovation.

There has also been a blurring of the lines between the types of industries investing in innovation in rural areas. A glance at the leading companies shaping Northumberland reveals names and sectors some might find surprising in a rural area.

Healthcare & life sciences, advanced engineering, renewable energy and even subsea & offshore are among the sectors thriving in the area, with Northumberland today being called home by businesses that have located from countries around the world.

Q. Does this mean a move away from traditional rural industries such as tourism and agriculture? Are our rural areas are becoming less distinct from our urban counterparts?

Not in Northumberland. Agricultural activities and tourism, particularly in areas such as Kielder, coastal locations and North Northumberland, still form the building blocks of the economy. But these emerging new sectors are helping the area to diversify.

Q. So why here? Why are countless innovative companies such as Piramal, Aesica, The Specials Labs and MSD, choosing to put down roots in Northumberland?

The answer is simple – it’s easier to innovate here than ever before. Of course improvements can always still be made, but many of the challenges associated with doing business in rural areas can now be overcome and opportunities can be properly harnessed:

• Connectivity. Poor internet connection used to pose a major challenge to businesses in Northumberland but services have radically changed. In fact the iNorthumberland scheme aims to bring superfast broadband to 95% of the county by the end of 2017
• Skills acquisition. Today there is a much better spread of skills across the county. Diversification in business sectors has brought new skills and expertise to the area
• Flexible working practices. Improved connectivity means employees can work remotely while remaining connected to their global customer base
• Business support. Specific support is targeted at rural businesses, for example the North East Rural Growth Network, delivered by Arch, is designed to support small rural businesses with capital investment projects. In 2015, the Rural Growth Network secured £6 million capital investment from the North East LEP.
• Quality of life. Northumberland’s lifestyle offer has always been a big draw and when you couple its coast, castles and rolling hills with the offer of a good job and connectivity, companies here can attract – and retain – world-leading talent.

Q. Given all of that, it is no surprise then to see innovative companies investing to increase their innovation capacity. Can you give us a few success stories from across the area?

We’ve lots to choose from but here are three examples of businesses we’ve supported recently to achieve their growth plans.

1. Arcinova is a leading global provider of research and development services to the pharmaceutical industry. The company has recently worked with the Arch Business team to secure rural growth funding in order to increase its capabilities by developing its Alnwick facility. The £60,000 grant will help to develop an additional revenue stream to complement their existing capabilities. The project includes the construction of a 20L API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) manufacturing plant, a suite of new drug development services and the creation of at least 30 high-quality jobs over the next few years.

The funding has helped the company to accelerate its strategy for growth as it seeks to provide world-beating technology services in contract research, development and small scale manufacturing from one site. This move will help its UK and international customers progress their projects through the drug development process efficiently and with minimum risk, which is a key consideration when innovating in the pharmaceutical sector.

2. Northumberland’s track-record in innovating in the rural economy also extends to other rural areas including Berwick-upon-Tweed where Maden Eco Ltd, a specialist in a range of renewable technologies and their different applications; is innovating in areas such as solar panel and biomass boiler installation, production of eco-friendly wood fuel, and the construction of eco-friendly homes.

3. Alongside this, Innovision Global, based near Ashington, develops products for pedestrian accessibility and safety. The product range encompasses tactile surfaces for the partially sighted, anti-slip step nosings and wayfinding systems. These products are based on a unique polymer which, when combined with a catalyst, forms an amazingly strong molecular bond with all existing floor surfaces.

Q. Can you tell us a little more about how Arch is helping to encourage innovation in rural areas?

Recognising the importance of innovation in the rural economy, Business Northumberland has embedded the theme as a key pillar across its programme of activity. Our aim is to level the playing field to ensure Northumberland based companies have the opportunities and the capability to achieve whatever they want, wherever they want to do it.
Click here to explore grant incentives in a rural location and to keep up to date with the latest funding calls.

About the author

John and the Arch team have a county-wide remit to attract investment, deliver development and implement regeneration. The Arch Business service includes tailored packages of support for businesses locating in Northumberland as well as a dedicated service to help local businesses realise their growth potential. These services include Business Northumberland a fully funded business support programme, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), aimed at helping businesses understand their growth aspirations and achieve them

About the Innovation SuperNetwork

The Innovation SuperNetwork is a unique network supporting innovation and business growth across the North East of England. Its programme is developed with around 50 partner organisations and is supported by Innovate UK, the North East LEP, Northumbrian Water Group and the North East BIC, with part funding from the European Regional Development Fund. The Innovation SuperNetwork delivers inspiring events including VentureFest North East and FinanceCamp, helps businesses explore new opportunities through projects such as Innovation Challenge and supports collaboration by creating links between sectors and bodies of expertise.

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£9.7m in grant funding available for rural businesses through the Rural Development Programme for England

The latest round of grant funding from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area has been announced, with grant funding totalling £9.7m available to businesses in the food processing, tourism and rural business development sectors.

The RDPE provides funding for projects in England which create jobs and growth in the rural economy.

Applications are being sought for projects that will grow a business, create jobs or bring more money in to the rural economy. Grant funding can help pay for constructing or improving buildings, and buying new equipment and machinery.

Three grant funds are available: Rural Business Development Grants, Rural Tourism Infrastructure Grants and Food Processing Grants.

Rural business development grants will help fund the growth of small rural businesses, new or existing. This includes farmers who want to diversify in to non-agricultural activities.

Rural tourism infrastructure grants will help fund the costs of capital expenditure on tourism infrastructure. The aim is to support projects that will encourage more tourists to come, to stay longer, and to spend more money in rural areas.

Food processing grants will help fund food processing businesses to grow and create jobs. This is for food and drink processing businesses which process agricultural and horticultural products. Examples include meat, milk, grain and root vegetables. Fisheries projects are not eligible.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said: “The rural economy plays an important part in the region’s overall economic success and we would urge businesses to take this opportunity to access the funding available which will help to grow and develop their business.”

The capital grants, which will be made available from the Rural Payments Agency, will fund up to 40% of a project’s costs with the minimum grant amount being £35,000. This means that a project’s overall cost would need to be over £87,500 to be eligible for the funding. To be eligible for the grants, businesses must be located in the eligible rural areas of County Durham, Northumberland and Gateshead or within the North East Rural Growth Network boundary, (see map).

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership works closely with Government to ensure that the European Funding allocation is aligned to projects that help deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan. Priority sectors are manufacturing and engineering, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and knowledge intensive business services and creative businesses.

Three workshops will be held for businesses to find out more about the funds. These are planned for:-

Tuesday 14 February – Kirkley Hall, Northumberland
One workshop covering tourism grants and a separate workshop for rural business development and food processing grants.

Thursday 16 February – Durham County Hall, Durham
This workshop will cover food business development and food processing grants.

To book a place at any of these events, click here

There is no deadline for applicants as the calls are open until January 2018, although applications will be reviewed every three months.

Full details of the calls and guidance notes can be found: here

Applicants are invited to submit expressions of interest via email to[email protected]

The grants are funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), which is part of the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF).

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) supports European policy on rural development. To this end, it finances rural development programmes across the Member States and the regions of the Union. Programmes are designed in cooperation between the European Commission and the Member States, taking into account the strategic guidelines for rural development policy adopted by the Council and the priorities laid down by national strategy plans.

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News from the North East Rural Growth Network

From funded business units in Kibblesworth to support for an award-winning farm shop, read all the latest news from the North East Rural Growth Network:

NERGN Newsletter July 2016

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First NEFRAN Rural Business Conference

Rural businesses and key rural representatives gathered for the first NEFRAN Rural Business Conference on the 24th June at Kirkley Hall Campus.

The event was designed to promote the work of the North East Farming and Rural Affairs Network (NEFRAN) and provide information to support the growth of rural businesses.

Around 150 delegates attended to take part in a full day that offered delegates the opportunity to meet business support and funding providers, attend workshops and listen to key note speakers highlighting key issues facing the rural economy, the north east devolution deal and what had been achieved through the Pilot Rural Growth Network Programme.

Key note speaker Lord Donald Curry of Kirkharle CBE, said rural businesses had a huge part to play in supporting the regional economy and in creating more and better jobs for all. Rural businesses needed to be well supported. He referred to the opportunities of the rural economy – the strength of its diversity and the potential growth that tourism, culture and heritage businesses could generate.

Antony Braithwaite, Chair of NEFRAN who chaired the conference said, ”It came over very strongly that a rural voice is needed to take part in the devolution and Brexit revolution that is about to occur. NEFRAN is ideally placed to undertake this role and influence the relevant decision makers.”

The conference reflected on the Pilot North East Rural Growth Network Programme and what had been achieved and learnt. This has been used to inform new support programmes going forward. Businesses were directed to sign up to the North East Growth Hub for information on grant funding, business support, what’s happening in the business community and up and coming events: www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk

The Rural Growth Network Programme Team who currently manages the Rural Growth Network capital grant offered to be the first point of contact. For help and advice on rural business support contact one of the Rural Growth Network Implementation Officers based at Arch:-

Julie Bullen
01670 528476
[email protected]

Katy McIntosh
01670 528489
[email protected]

Or visit www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/arch-business/rural-growth-network-2-1

The conference was funded and supported by the North East Rural Growth Network with support from Arch and Kirkley Hall.

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Paul Woolston to stand down as LEP Chair

Paul Woolston, who has led the North East LEP since its formation nearly five years ago, is to leave his post together with several colleagues in a number of changes to the board.

Paul, a former senior partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers, has led the LEP board as chair since the organisation was created in 2011. He will formally leave his post as chair at the next LEP board meeting on January 28 when his replacement will be announced.

Under his successful leadership, the North East LEP has:

• Delivered the North East Independent Economic Review led by Lord Adonis. This allowed the LEP to formulate the Strategic Economic Plan setting out how to achieve the economic growth needed to deliver 100,000 new and better jobs over the next decade

• Secured £1.5bn in central Government and European funding to finance new economic growth

• Retained the crucial £120m JEREMIE 2 business support fund in the North East, to be invested exclusively into scores of new and growing North East companies

• Successfully bid for two Enterprise Zones covering a total of 20 sites across the region. The first zone has created more than 1,200 new jobs to date, with a lot more to come, and the second zone is anticipated to deliver a further 14,000 jobs.

• Appointed the North East’s first innovation director – acclaimed entrepreneur and business leader Hans Moller – to oversee the investment of £125m to support creativity and dynamism in the region’s growing business base

• Established effective public-private sector advisory boards to stimulate innovation, business growth and skills development

• Created the North East Growth Hub – the comprehensive online resource for business advice, funding information, networking, news and events.

Paul said now was the time to stand down from his post and make way for a new chair.

“The timing is right for a new chair to lead the North East LEP forward at an exciting time in its development and for the region,” said Paul.

“We are entering a new year with a devolution deal for the North East agreed with Government and the combined authority, which will mean a new role for the LEP.”

Three further business board members will also step down as part of the LEP’s plan to stagger its board member leaving and replacement process, keeping experienced members in place to support newcomers.

Businesswoman Gill Southern stepped down from the LEP board just before Christmas, while Michael Bellamy and Arnab Basu will also leave the board as soon as replacement members are recruited.

As part of a rotation of duties, Northumbria University Vice-Chancellor Andrew Wathey and Jon Vincent, Principal and Chief Executive of TyneMet College, have both recently been appointed to the board to replace Anne Isherwood and Peter Fidler.

Paul added: “I would like to thank our business board members who have all really made a difference to what the LEP does, as well as Edward Twiddy and Helen Golightly for their executive leadership.

“Their intellect, innovation and energy means we have been able to turn a great strategy into great decision-making for the North East economy.

“Strong business representation is crucial to the long-term success of the North East LEP and I would urge businesspeople to help shape the region’s future by applying for a place on the board.

“I am genuinely proud of what we have achieved. Initiating the Adonis Review enabled us to produce the Strategic Economic Plan for the region.

“It is absolutely transformational and it is being adopted and embedded in the region to drive future economic success.

“The North East LEP has attracted an enormous amount of funding, £1.5bn, which is being allocated now to implement the Strategic Economic Plan.

“Our challenge now as a region is to eliminate the persistent economic gap between ourselves and other regions of the UK.”

Andrew Hodgson, North East LEP Vice Chair, said: “Under Paul’s leadership, the North East LEP has secured significant funding from Europe and Government to underpin vital economic development.

“He has helped build and establish the LEP in a changing political landscape and worked hard with the most senior levels of Government to ensure the North East’s Strategic Economic Plan is understood and supported.”

Arnab Basu said “It has been a privilege to serve alongside Paul on the LEP board since its beginning. He has been a tireless champion of the north east and I wish him well in the future.

“After five years it is only right that we make way for others to carry the mantle forward. The North East has such a vibrant and thriving business community and I have no doubt the new members will have brighter, fresher ideas and contribute fully to the vital task carried out by the LEP. I will look forward to following their success with great interest.”

Gill said: “I will continue to be a strong advocate of the North East LEP’s activity and work hard to ensure North East business seizes the maximum benefits a new political landscape will present.”

Councillor Simon Henig, Chair of the North East Combined Authority and Leader of Durham County Council, said: “Paul has created a strong foundation for the North East to move into a new phase as we work towards proposed devolution and an elected Mayor.”

Businesspeople interested in applying for a board member post at the North East LEP should contact Jim Allcroft at NRG. Email: [email protected] or Tel: 0191 2604483.

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Rural Growth Network Grant Programme funding for 2016/2017 covering rural Durham, Gateshead and Northumberland

A project call for Expression of Interest to the Rural Business Growth Fund (RBGF) is now open for applications.

This is one of two new Rural Growth Network (RGN) funding schemes funded by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

This capital fund is designed to boost enterprise and business growth through expansion of productivity or diversifying into new markets or products across much of rural Northumberland, County Durham and Gateshead.

Grant support will be directed at micro, small and medium sized businesses with growth plans. Priority will be for businesses operating in target sectors within the North East Rural Growth Network (NE RGN) area.

Grants will be available at 40% of eligible costs from a minimum of £10,000 to £60,000, subject to state aid.

Activities which can be supported include:

• Improvements/upgrade/expansion of business premises
• Purchase of capital plant and equipment

Priority sectors include:

• Manufacturing
• Knowledge Intensive Businesses
• Renewable Energy
• Environment
• Food and Drink and High Value Tourism (Tourism accommodation projects are not included due to alternative funding sources.)

Projects will have until 31st December to submit a completed Expression of Interest.

It is a competitive process and applications are invited from projects that are well-developed, are a good fit with the eligibility criteria and capable of starting spending in 2016.

Selected projects will be asked to progress at risk to Stage 2.

Final decisions will be made in April 2016, which will enable successful projects to commence.

For more information and to read summary guidance on RBGF, please visit: http://www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/north-east-rural-growth-network/rural-growth-network-news-events/ or contact Louise Liddle, RGN Implementation Officer on [email protected] or call 01670 528458.

It is anticipated that a further call for RBGF projects will be issued in February 2016.

Please note this fund will be in addition to the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund (SEIF). A Call for SEIF projects is currently open and more information is available here http://bit.ly/1PrSwjq

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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 .