Advance Northumberland, the economic regeneration arm of Northumberland County Council, was launched in 2018 with a clear remit to improve prosperity, quality of life and increase business activity throughout the communities of Northumberland.
Prudhoe Business writer Leanne Fawcett chats to Lucy Evermore, Programme Manager, about the business landscape in Northumberland and some of the challenges and opportunities being faced by firms located within the predominantly rural county…
Like so many other counties up and down the country, Northumberland is facing its fair share of challenges. The Covid pandemic, the cost of living crisis, rising energy costs, increased costs to purchase raw materials and Brexit are all still impacting the business community.
And that’s not to mention the skills shortage which seems to be a recurring theme wherever you’re based.
So, what help is there available for businesses and where does Advance Northumberland, the economic arm of Northumberland County Council, fit in?
Lucy Evermore is Programme Manager within the Economic Growth and Investment team at Advance Northumberland, with specific responsibility for the Business Northumberland support programme.
She said: “Our main priorities within the Economic Growth and Investment team are to create jobs for the county, attract inward investment from businesses nationally and internationally, and ensure businesses across the county are supported so they have everything they need to grow.
“There are a number of ways we do this. The first is through the three business support programmes we deliver. These are Business Northumberland, which is aimed at getting small businesses online and increasing their digital capabilities and presence; Rural Business Growth Service, which helps businesses prepare for growth and capital investment; and the Rural Design Centre Innovation Programme, which brings together local SMEs to solve problems and challenges in the rural areas of the county.
“We are also active in the community with our officers out and about meeting employers and business owners to learn more about their priorities and in what areas they need additional support, whether that’s financial or through one-to-one or workshop sessions.
“We deliver a wide range of networking events and try and target areas where there isn’t a lot of networking on offer. Prudhoe is certainly an area we are looking at and would be keen to engage with businesses in the area to make that happen.
“Advance Northumberland also has strong links with the schools and colleges and our employer engagement officer works to connect businesses in the town with the educational establishments to make sure they have access to potential new recruits and that there are young people emerging with the skills they need.”
Lucy said Advance Northumberland is also keen to build a stronger presence in Prudhoe, one of the rural communities that is up and coming in terms of how businesses work together.
One addition to the town that has proved beneficial is the opening of the Tyne View Retail Park, which is not only helping connect the larger national brands located there with the smaller, independent retailers located on the high street but is also helping increase footfall into the town.
Lucy added: “The opening of the retail park has certainly been good for the area as it’s bringing in people who perhaps wouldn’t have visited previously, but are coming for the bigger national outlets and then while they’re here they’re visiting the high street and buying from the small independent retailers. So, while at first there was some opposition to its opening, I think people have realised it’s a good thing for Prudhoe.”
In terms of the challenges that are impacting businesses of all sizes, I asked Lucy what support is available. She said: “We are doing everything we can to make sure businesses have access to the right level of assistance.
“Our funding programmes do come to an end in June, however we are seeking out new funding opportunities and there is a new funding pot that is launching imminently, the Shared Prosperity Fund, which is being administered by the North of Tyne Combined Authority.
“Applications will be opening shortly and we will be looking to secure future funding so we are able to continue to offer some support and assistance to firms looking to grow and create jobs.
“Our Business Growth Advisers are also here to help anyone with concerns around Covid, the cost of living, energy bills, Brexit and access to skills. Many businesses across the town have benefited from the support available through Advance Northumberland, such as National Learning Group who received 12 hours of fully funded one-to-one coaching through Business Northumberland, so if anyone has any issues or wants to speak to us about anything else, I would urge them to get in touch.
“Overall, and despite the challenges being faced by our business community, there are many reasons for optimism. The energy sector in our county is certainly growing and presents some real opportunities for our companies to tap into. We’re also seeing a real willingness from businesses to want to work together and support one another.
“We’re a resilient community – our businesses have had a lot to contend with but they’re still here and hopefully, with the right support and interventions, can look towards a future which involves growth, investment and job creation.”