A programme to stimulate business growth and job creation in rural communities in Northumberland, County Durham and Gateshead is on track to exceed its job creation targets.

Four years in to its five-year life, the North East Rural Growth Network has already successfully committed over £5-million in grant funding; 92% of its available funds, which will leverage more than £20-million in public and private sector investment. To date, more than half of the 321 planned new jobs arising from this investment have been created.

The programme, with £6-million funding from The North East LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), is being delivered from March 2015 to March 2020.

Focusing on rural communities in Northumberland, County Durham and Gateshead the North East Rural Growth Network is stimulating business growth and job creation through the application of specific capital grant funding and expertise.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP said: “So far we’ve supported 37 projects through the North East Rural Growth Network.

“For the 19 rural businesses that received a share of £1.2 million in financial grants towards investment in capital plant and equipment this has meant the financial opportunity to expand or diversify into new markets. We have also invested £4.2 million in the future of 18 key business and strategic tourism sites. Three recently approved projects, two in Northumberland and one in Durham, bring us up to 92% in our commitment of funds.

“The results to date for local people include more than 178 new and better jobs across Northumberland, Gateshead and County Durham; and that’s just the beginning. The commitments we have made and the public and private investment that is being leveraged as a result are set to generate more than 400 jobs, exceeding our original target.”

The North East Rural Growth Network offers two capital funds to companies: the Strategic Economic Infrastructure Fund (SEIF) and the Rural Business Growth Fund (RBGF).

The SEIF fund has supported 18 projects since 2015, including the creation of enterprise units for multiple business users and has been used to unlock potential development sites like such as the former Thinford Inn Roundabout, Durham. The fund has also been used to invest in strategic tourism projects including the delivery of 500 years of industrial and cultural heritage at the Land of Oak and Iron Heritage Centre and Café in County Durham, and the Sill Visitor Centre in Northumberland. Most recently the Amble Inn opened its doors, following a £4-million investment by Newcastle hospitality group The Inn Collection which included a £448,500 grant from this fund.

The RBGF has been used to support rural businesses that are planning to expand or diversify into new markets or products in the food and drink and manufacturing sectors, and creative industries.

Ken Dunbar, Chair of the Rural Growth Network Executive said: “With just over a year left of the North East Rural Growth Network we’re well on the way with our plans to ensure our rural economy is an accessible and distinctive place to live, work and visit.

“Our aim is to support businesses in their journey to overcome some of the barriers to SME growth through the provision of good quality accommodation for rural businesses of all shapes and sizes. This includes the creation of 4,000 square meters of new commercial and industrial floorspace and the refurbishment of 2,000 more; giving rural business the space to expand and securing local jobs when they do.”

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