STUDENTS, academics, local business people, and representatives from the public and third sectors joined forces in Newcastle last week to share ideas and devise solutions for how to stimulate economic growth in the North.
Northern Futures, which was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister in August, is a new Government initiative designed to explore opportunities for development in the region; and last Thursday’s event, facilitated by Northumbria University, Newcastle, provided the perfect forum for people from different sectors to offer up ideas and proposals for change.
The diverse group of attendees – who ranged from Masters students and RSA Fellows to senior members of the business community – discussed challenges facing the region, voting for those which they regarded as most crucial to the future of the North. These included themes around identity, political independence, investments, education, skills and infrastructure.
One of the participants, Nick Devitt, a North East based specialist in service design and innovation, and Northumbria graduate, said: “I hope that this sort of consultation is the beginning of the Government actively involving residents in identifying the problems that need resolving in the North East, and also building on strengths that we have up here.
“For too long, policy makers have been too far removed from real people in real places, and Northern Futures is certainly a step in the right direction towards closing the gap.”
His sentiment was echoed by another member of the group, Jasmine Morris, who has recently graduated from Northumbria’s Multidisciplinary Innovation MA course. She said: “It’s great to see the Government being more proactive in starting a conversation about maximising the potential of the North. I feel a renewed sense of optimism about our economic future. We are ready for change!”
The event, which was organised by the Cabinet Office’s Policy Lab, was part of a series of Open Ideas Days which ran simultaneously across eight different Northern locations. The culmination of Northern Futures will take place in Leeds in November, when Ideas Day participants will have the opportunity to have their ideas presented to politicians and decision-makers.
The Newcastle Ideas Day was held at the city’s Toffee Factory venue and led by Mark Bailey, Northumbria University’s Director of Innovation Design programmes, and Dr Joyce Yee, Senior Lecturer and Operational Manager for the Northumbria DESIS Lab. They were also supported by, Laura Warwick a PhD researcher in Service Design in the third sector, and Multidisciplinary Innovation Masters student, Ben Nightingale.
During the day, they led the participants through a series of tasks aimed at answering the question: How do we build on the strengths in the North to create an economic core in the heart of the region that can compete with the biggest cities in the world?
The participants were encouraged to work together, drawing upon their diverse skillsets, to devise project-based solutions for these complex, and sometimes contentious issues.
Their ideas ranged from ‘Schuni’, a personalised learning journey drawing on connecting existing education systems with businesses; to the ‘Great North Networks’, a high speed figure-of-eight rail and broadband infrastructure designed to connect the intellectual, social and political capital of the North.
Dr Joyce Yee, who teaches on Northumbria’s Interactive Media Design programme, said: “There was great energy in the room and everyone was extremely passionate about contributing ideas to support growth in the North.
“We hope this energy is sustained and captured through the Ideas Summit on 6th November, and reflected in the Autumn Spending Review.”