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The Rural Growth Network: in conversation with North East LEP Board Member Gillian Hall

Evaluation of the Rural Growth Network pilot programme

Since 2012 we’ve seen the Rural Growth Network (RGN) working to stimulate economic growth in the North East’s rural areas and communities. This has included identifying the key issues which face businesses in these rural areas; assisting businesses with either financial support or business advice; helping to create enterprise hubs; and providing capital investment to support employment and business growth in the rural economy.

In the North East, the RGN pilot project began in 2012 with £3.2m of funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Defra has recently completed its evaluation of the national RGN pilot phase, looking at the impact made by the Networks’ support to the rural economy across the UK. I was interested to be able to review some of the key findings which have emerged from the report and am pleased to see evidence of the project’s impact, including:

  • For every £1 of Defra RGN investment spent by the end of September 2015, the return on investment will be around £6.60 by the end of the next three years
  • The pilot initiative helped to create or safeguard over 2,200 jobs
  • It also helped to create over 700 businesses
  • The RGN support has brought about a range of soft outcomes, including building skills and capacity in the areas of enterprise and business growth, addressing confidence issues and creating sustainable business networks.

Here in the North East, we had some specific targets for the region’s RGN pilot project, including the aim to support the creation of 300 new jobs and 40 new businesses.

In fact, both these targets were exceeded during the three year project, with nearly 200 new businesses helped to establish themselves. The pilot achieved 100 enterprise spaces in 13 enterprise hubs. The network has grown successfully and there are now 36 enterprise hubs across the rural North East, from Berwick to Bishop Auckland, Amble to Allendale.

Following these successes, the North East LEP and central Government allocated a further £6m of Local Growth Funding to phase two of the North East RGN, over a five year period to 2020. The new capital programme aims to support rural businesses and stimulate business growth within the rural areas of Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead.

Projects which have already received support from the North East RGN include The Sill – this ambitious £14.2 million initiative will result in a new Landscape Discovery Centre and YHA Youth Hostel, transforming how people explore the landscapes, history and heritage of Northumberland and also delivering substantial economic benefits to the area.

In Tyne and Wear, the Kibblesworth Village Millennium Centre secured over £40,000 in support from the Rural Growth Network to support the project, which includes the creation of three iconic enterprise pods and conversion of space in the centre building to create further office accommodation, informal business meeting space and toilet facilities.

Between now and 2020, the North East RGN is set to help create more and better jobs in the North East’s rural economy.

Find out more about the North East RGN.
Find out about the business space on offer at www.ruralconnect.biz 

Gillian Hall, North East LEP Board Member.