Region’s universities launch national centre to support rural business

Rural Gloucestershire

A new national centre to support enterprise, resilience and innovation among rural firms has been set up. Led by Newcastle University, the consortium includes The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester and the Universities of Gloucestershire and Warwick working with business, policy makers and enterprise agencies.

In England alone, rural businesses comprise more than half a million enterprises, 3.6 million employees and contribute more than £260 billion to GDP. Yet despite this, they are still largely underexplored and underutilised.

The NICRE has been awarded £3.8 million of funding by Research England and aims to help build the capabilities of policy makers, support agencies, rural businesses and their advisers to create resilient and sustainable economies fit for the 21st century.

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 formally launches in September, but the current crisis means its partners are already working to support the national response to the pandemic.

Stephen Marston, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, said: “This is a major research coup for the University of Gloucestershire, to be a member of a consortium with two leading research universities, winning national research funding.  It is a reflection of the excellence of the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), which is based at the University of Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham campus and operated in partnership with the Royal Agricultural University.  The CCRI, which led the bid for the University, is recognised as one of the leading social science research institutes in the country specialising in understanding rural communities and economies, and how they can be supported to develop.  This funding award will enable the University, working closely with colleagues at the Royal Agricultural University, to extend the support that we can provide in sustaining and developing this crucial sector of Gloucestershire’s economy at a time when it is facing huge challenges”.

Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU said: “With the impact of Covid-19, now more than ever, we’re seeing the challenges facing rural businesses and communities; but we are also seeing their distinct strengths and their incredible capacity to adapt. This new Centre is about playing to these needs and strengths.“Sharing research innovation, learning and best practice is the backbone to building resilience for the future. Through our involvement with the development of NICRE, we are looking forward to working with our research colleagues at the University of Gloucestershire and other partner universities, as well as businesses, policy makers, enterprise agencies and communities, to strengthen rural enterprise locally and across the UK.”

The RAU will be providing expertise to the project though the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) which is based at the University of Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham campus. Operated in partnership with the RAU, the CCRI is recognised as one of the leading social science research institutes in the country specialising in understanding rural communities and economies, and how they can be supported to develop.

Professor Janet Dwyer, Director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire said: “The award of significant funding from Research England represents an important milestone for the CCRI, in partnership with Warwick and Newcastle Universities.  NICRE will enable us to significantly expand our transformative work with rural networks and enterprise, using research to benefit innovation and strengthening the evidence base for policies that really help to address the needs of all rural businesses.

“We have an exciting and growing portfolio of initiatives across Gloucestershire and neighbouring counties. The NICRE team in CCRI, based at the University of Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural University, linked to the Growth Hubs operated by both Universities and working with partners in commerce and social enterprise, will be dedicated to finding new and successful ways for rural firms to negotiate the challenges of post-Coronavirus recovery, managing Brexit and responding to the climate emergency.”

A key focus for NICRE will be to identify and release rural contributions to our country’s long term challenges and opportunities – an ageing society, need for clean growth, future mobility and the data revolution – identified as Grand Challenges in the UK’s Industrial Strategy.