WBS partners with new £3.8 million research centre

22 May 2020

  • WBS joins £3.8 million national centre to support rural businesses
  • School's Enterprise Research Centre to help build sustainable rural economy
  • National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise to guide policymakers
  • Rural firms employ 3.6 million people and contribute £269 billion to GDP

The Enterprise Research Centre at Warwick Business School has become a partner in a new National Centre to support enterprise, resilience and innovation among rural firms and unlock the untapped potential of rural economies across the UK.

Led by experts from Newcastle University, WBS, Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural Universities, and working with businesses, policymakers, enterprise agencies and communities, the Centre has been awarded £3.8 million of funding by Research England.

In England alone, rural businesses comprise more than 500,000 enterprises, 3.6 million employees and contribute more than £260 billion to GDP. Yet despite this, they are still largely underexplored and underutilised.

Through 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.

“An innovative and vibrant rural economy will be critical to the UK’s recovery from COVID-19. The NICRE will support new rural innovation across the UK through developing local capacity and new partnerships. The new centre builds on the established expertise of three leading research centres at Warwick, Newcastle and Gloucester universities," said Stephen Roper, Professor of Enterprise and Director of the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC).

The ERC, which was set-up in 2013, has established itself as the leading centre of excellence in the UK for research into the growth, innovation and productivity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The ERC’s core research team are based at Warwick and Aston University Business Schools, but it works with a network of world-class researchers based in a range of institutions.

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.

“A thriving rural economy is crucial to the future prosperity, wellbeing and resilience of communities across the UK," said NICRE Director Jeremy Phillipson, Professor of Rural Development at Newcastle University.

“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."

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.

A key focus for NICRE will be to identify and release rural contributions to the UK’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.

Richard Baker, Head of Strategy and Policy at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The 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."

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