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Reflecting on the first few months of NICRE

It has been a productive first eight months at the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) since our official ‘start’ in September last year and we wanted to update you on what has been happening.

Firstly, let us recap on what NICRE is. We are a hub of research excellence, knowledge exchange and impact, focusing on:

  • Undertaking and commissioning new research to fill gaps in our current knowledge of rural enterprise and innovation
  • Developing practical solutions with businesses, rural communities and economic development agencies
  • Providing evidence to inform better policy and support for rural businesses

Put simply we want to foster rural enterprise and unlock the potential in our rural economies – a sector which despite its vast scale, is largely underexplored and underutilised.

Setting up NICRE during a global pandemic is not something we ever envisaged. Nevertheless, what is certain, is that the challenges and innovations that COVID-19 has presented and stimulated for rural enterprise have only served to strengthen NICRE’s relevance. Having it in place means we are much better placed to be able to respond and inform future recovery.

As part of our commitment to fill our knowledge gap, we are carrying out research and analysis on a host of topics in relation to rural enterprise, including rural exporting, digital adoption, Net Zero practices, access to external finance and business support, and innovation behaviours.

We are expanding our evidence base by funding seven projects led by a variety of UK universities to further explore our themes of ‘productive rural’, ‘smart rural’, ‘engaged rural’ and ‘resilient rural’. These include, for example, projects that will shine the spotlight on rural creative industries, the contribution of social enterprise and the impacts of COVID-19 on rural shoppers and retail strategies,

We have also launched the first major survey of rural and farming businesses to explore the lesser-known area of rural resilience in the wake of COVID-19 and will be speaking to more than 4,000 firms in the North East, South West and Midlands.

We are keen to interview businesses in more detail about the challenges they have faced and the support they have received from Government and local agencies. If you are a business and would like to get involved contact Stephen.Roper@wbs.ac.uk Please do pass this on to any rural business in these areas you think may be interested.

Work is well underway with a range of partners and rural communities on a series of innovation projects to develop practical solutions to the challenges they face. These include creating new opportunities for farmers in the South West to sell their produce locally into public sector catering contracts, helping to develop smart community buildings in rural areas and supporting digital transformation and low-carbon practices in the food and drink sector, both in the North East.

To inform better policy, we have published a Briefing Paper. What is the contribution of rural enterprise to Levelling Up, and how can this be further enabled? argues that while rural economies are an element of the Levelling Up challenge, they can also be part of the solution for revitalising rural and non-rural areas. 

If you would like to know more about our work, visit our website www.ncl.ac.uk and sign up for updates, email us at nicre@newcastle.ac.uk, or follow us on Twitter @NICRErural

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