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North East universities spark creative business boost

Date: 18/02/2019

A unique partnership bringing together the North East’s five universities has supported hundreds of small businesses, helping to boost innovation, create jobs and attract additional funding.

Creative Fuse has worked with more than 277 firms across the North East since it began in 2016. Typically for the creative industries, 90% of those had ten or fewer members of staff and around half had just one member of staff.

The project, led by Newcastle University, was set up to help make the region’s creative economy more resilient by sharing academic expertise to enable the sector become more innovative and grow. Importantly, Creative Fuse also supported new collaborations between creative businesses and the broader economy – ideas and approaches from creative practice have stimulated innovation in other sectors, from health and wellbeing, to future cities and ‘big data’.

Now reaching the end of its current phase, around 23 jobs are expected to have been created and at least one organisation has recently received a £100k funding boost.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the European Regional Development Fund, Arts Council England and the five universities, Creative Fuse included 30 innovation pilots as part of the £4m scheme. It brought together firms and academics from Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities, to address industrial, commercial and social challenges.

Principal project investigator Professor Eric Cross said: “Creative Fuse has developed in ways that we could not have predicted, and while its main focus has been the creative and digital sector we have had fascinating projects applying creative approaches to other areas included health, data and manufacturing.

“At its core has been a highly successful collaboration between the North East’s five universities – something that we intend to continue into the future. Many firms had never worked with academics before and some have described the effect on their business as ‘transformative’.”

Creative Fuse has just published its latest report, looking over its achievements in the past 30 months. Project director Mark Adamson said: “Our Creative Fuse report arrives at an important time. The Government has just published new statistics for the creative sector, which show that London and the North East were the fastest growing UK regions - between 2010 and 2017, the sector in the North East grew more than twice as fast than the rest of the economy in the region. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has just launched its updated Strategic Economic Plan highlighting, amongst other things, the role of innovation in the regional economy. Creative Fuse has shown that there is appetite and real opportunity to galvanise further growth in this key sector.”

One innovation pilot was with Full Blown Metal, based at the Biscuit factory in Newcastle, which has two full-time employees.

The SME, which makes a range of objects including sculptures and furniture using its patented blown metal technique, was interested in diversifying and making aesthetic-led pieces of metal which absorb heat during daytime and release it at night.

“Without Creative Fuse, we’d still be in the talking phase,” says Steve Newby from the company.  “We wouldn’t have got this far.” After working with experts from Northumbria and Newcastle universities on the technical details and market research, the company is now aiming to have its new innovation product on the market in around 18 months.

Newcastle’s West End Refugee Service (WERS) was another recipient of innovation pilot funding. Its Skillsmatch project, developed with Newcastle and Teesside universities and Roots and Wings graphic design, matches the skills and interests of asylum seekers and refugees with volunteering opportunities, enabling individuals to apply and develop/contribute their skills when many are not allowed to work. Since the innovation pilot ended, WERS has received £100k funding from the National Lottery Community Fund towards an overall volunteering project, of which Skillsmatch is a central part.

Hannah Barnes from WERS said: “Skillsmatch is a new way of working for WERS, it's officially our first digital project. It allows us to work with clients in a different way, and to establish new links with organisations in the local community. It's been great to see individuals start to take up roles, develop their own skills and gain confidence. We're looking forward to developing the project in the future with the help of a Reaching Communities Grant from the National Lottery Community Fund.

Through Skillsmatch, volunteer roles have so far been taken up by asylum seekers and refugees at the Great Exhibition of the North, Blackfriars at Ouseburn - A community venue run by St Vincent de Paul Society, and Scotswood Community Garden.

Other innovation pilots included:

  • WordNerds – using AI to better understand tone about products and services on social media  Sunderland and Teesside Universities
  • Shoes2Run – created a sock which analyses a runner’s gait. Sunderland and Northumbria universities
  • Intogral – using AI to classify museum collections Durham and Newcastle Universities

Find out more about Creative Fuse here: www.creativefusene.org.uk

Notes to Editor:

  1. To request an interview, or for more information, please contact Lyndsay Short at Newcastle University Press Office on 0191 208 5669.
  2. Earlier in the project, Creative Fuse North East carried out a survey of more than 500 firms to better understand the state of the Creative, Digital and IT (CDIT) sector in the North East. It found the turnover of more than half of businesses surveyed grew in 2015/16. It also highlighted that employment in the region’s creative industries grew faster than in the UK as a whole, with a 22.6% increase from 2001 and 2015, compared to 19.5% nationally.
  3. Creative Fuse North East is a unique collaboration between Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham, Sunderland and Teesside universities and is funded jointly by the universities and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts Council England (ACE) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
  4. The current phase of the project runs until March 2019. It is a multi-disciplinary, multi stakeholder action research project which explores the social, economic and innovation value of the Creative Digital and IT (CDIT) sector in the region. Alongside this research strand, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Arts Council England and European Regional Development Funds are being used to support direct engagement with creative freelancers and SMEs in the sector, developing innovative collaborations and approaches and promoting economic growth.
  5. Creative Fuse North East was launched in November 2016 and its aim is to ensure the CDIT sector in the region becomes more resilient, grows faster and creates more and better jobs in a sustainable digital economy.
  6. European Regional Development Fund - The project has received up to £811,064 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for ERDF. Established by the European Union ERDF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.  For more information visit www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding 
  7. London and the North East were the fastest growing regions for DCMS sectors since 2010. In terms of GVA, London and the North East were the fastest growing UK regions for DCMS sectors (excluding Tourism and Civil Society), increasing by 58.0% and 46.1% respectively since 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, DCMS sector GVA in the North East grew 2.2 times faster than the GVA for the total UK economy in this region (46.1% compared to 21.4%). Further information: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/778343/DCMS_Sectors_Economic_Estimates_2017_Regional_GVA.pdf
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