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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].

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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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Forestry Innovation Fund

DEFRA’s Forestry Innovation Fund is a nationwide £1 million fund to support schemes that will promote the growth of the forest industry in their region. The Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) is financed by this fund.

Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG)

Applications for the WCPG are now open. Please note WCPG is not part of Countryside Stewardship which provides other funding opportunities for creating and managing woodland.

What is the Forestry Innovation Fund?

WCPG contributes towards the costs of gathering and analysing the information land managers need to consider to ensure their proposals for productive multi-purpose woodland take account of any impacts on: biodiversity, landscape, water, the historic environment and local stakeholders.

WCPG ultimately requires production of a UK Forestry Standard compliant plan for creating the woodland that shows how any constraints and opportunities have been taken in to account.

What is eligible?

Proposals need to meet some basic criteria, being at least 30 hectares in area and showing potential to benefit the forestry sector in the long-term through the provision of timber or other wood products. We will accept applications that span multiple land holdings, though the grant is only available on land in England.

Existing native, semi-natural habitats are likely to have a high value for biodiversity, and for landscape and visual interest. This will need to be compared with the value of new woodland. Moreover there is a specific presumption against the conversion of priority habitats, such as deep peat or active raised bogs. Where the proposed planting is on semi-natural habitat the presumption is that the planting will be restricted to native broadleaved species or it will be retained as open ground adding to the forest mosaic.

Find out more.

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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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Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund (SEIF) – Capital Project Call

The competitive capital funding call for the Strategic Economic Infrastructure fund (SEIF) is now open again until 25 March.

The Call plans to commit and spend £1.46m on projects that can substantially spend and deliver outputs in 2016/17 and fully complete by March 2018. Projects may claim for project costs after approval from 2016 to the end of March 2018.

The fund is designed to stimulate investment in the development of business infrastructure in rural areas, including premises for new micro enterprises, small firms needing move-on accommodation, and facilities for larger and growing businesses. It will also support investment in strategic tourism assets, transforming the quality and added value of the rural tourism economy, as well as supporting infrastructure works needed to unlock employment development sites.

There are no firm minimum and maximum grant thresholds. However, indicatively projects requiring less than £40,000 grant will have to clearly demonstrate strategic impact in their community and why other rural funding, including new rural Leader programmes may be unavailable to support such projects. Any project seeking over circa £500,000 would need to be clearly of regional importance to the rural economy and able to offer a range of economic benefits beyond a local level.

Applicants must provide a minimum of 60% match funding and will need to comply with State Aid rules. If work has already started on a project it is ineligible for SEIF support.

The Rural Growth Network invites project applications that are a strong fit with the guidance, can progress quickly if selected, are able to commence and make significant progress on site in 2016/17 and are physically located within the North East RGN operational boundary.

Please see the Project Call Guidance document to check the eligibility of projects. If you consider your project to be eligible and would like an application form to apply or you require further clarification please contact:
Julie Bullen, RGN Implementation Officer: [email protected] Tel: 01670 528476

The deadline for submission of Stage 1 applications is 12.00 noon 25th March.

Further information on the RGN programme can be found by following the link below:-

Additional rural grant funding opportunities:-

Rural Business Growth Fund (RBGF)
Due to high demand the Rural Business Growth Fund is now closed to further applications for 2016/2017.

Funding is expected to be available from April 2017 onwards and a further call for projects will be made in late autumn 2016 for this funding.

Other Rural Funding Opportunities

LEADER funding is available for rural businesses across Northumberland, Gateshead and County Durham. The LEADER programme aims to fund farmers, foresters and other local rural businesses and communities to help develop enterprises within rural areas, create jobs and support the rural economy.

Successful applications must contribute to one of the following LEADER priorities:
· Farm productivity
· Forestry
· Micro/ small business and farm diversification
· Rural tourism
· Rural services
· Culture and Heritage

For more information visit:-

· Northumberland Uplands – www.nuleader.eu
· Northumberland Coast and Lowlands – www.leadercoastandlowlands.org.uk

EAFRD – Tourism and Business Support Grant Programmes
Grant programmes are currently delayed and further information will not be forthcoming until the spring.