Plans unveiled for £3.8 million National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise

Plans have been unveiled to establish a new national centre to support enterprise, resilience and innovation among rural firms across the UK.

The new National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) will be funded by £3.8 million from Research England.

The centre will be led by experts from Newcastle, Warwick, Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural Universities, and will work with businesses, policymakers, enterprise agencies and communities.

Creating resilient and sustainable economies

In England alone, there are more than half a million rural businesses, employing 3.6 million people and contributing over £260 billion to the economy.

Yet despite this, rural economies are still largely underexplored and underutilised.

Through the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), the aim is to help build the capabilities of policymakers, support agencies, rural businesses and their advisers to create resilient and sustainable economies fit for the 21st century.

Centre director Jeremy Phillipson, Prof. of Rural Development at Newcastle University, said: “A thriving rural economy is crucial to the future prosperity, well-being and resilience of communities across the UK.

The need to encourage and release the dynamism and untapped potential of rural areas is even greater now with the combined uncertainty of Brexit and impacts of Covid-19 and what the implications will be, not just for rural areas, but for the UK economy as a whole.

“Our aim is to strengthen the evidence base relating to rural innovation and enterprise to encourage more effective policymaking and support for rural firms and communities at local and national levels.

“We will work actively with businesses, rural communities and economic development agencies at the local level to share learning and test new approaches to innovation and enterprise.”

Economic challenges

Though the decision to fund NICRE was taken before the outbreak of Covid-19, its work will help to understand the ongoing impacts in rural areas and inform recovery.

The centre will begin its work formally this September, but the current crisis means its partners are already working to support the national response to the pandemic.

Richard Baker, head of strategy and policy at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The National Innovation Centre marks an important milestone in the development of key economic assets in the region and will contribute to our regional economic strategy development.

“NICRE’s multi-disciplinary approach which will combine research programmes and evaluation of practice in delivery offers a unique opportunity to tackle both opportunities and deep-seated economic challenges in our rural communities.

It couldn’t be more timely as we work together to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and plan the North East’s recovery programme, and consider changes ahead in rural policy now we have left the European Union.

“The North East Local Enterprise Partnership welcomes the plan for collaborative development of solutions that foster rural innovation and enterprise to raise the economic productivity and protect the vibrancy and dynamism of our rural areas. It is also good that through NICRE we will be able to work with other rural regions across England to learn from the experience of different places.”