Why I’m full of confidence for 2017

2016 has been a weird old year hasn’t it? Full of surprises, twists and turns you would never have predicted in December last year, which is why it’s always risky to make them for the year ahead. However, I’m an eternally optimistic guy so I’m going to tell you about some things that are already exciting me about 2017.

Firstly, despite all the shock and confusion around Brexit, the Labour Leadership challenge and the North East Combined Authority’s vote against Devolution, I believe 2017 will be the year our region comes into its own as we roll up our sleeves and work together to grow our local economy and show the UK Government, national media and international business community why we are such a great place to start and grow a business.

Yes, the uncertainty around Brexit and loss of EU funding could potentially make things very difficult for us, but until Article 50 is invoked (if at all) we need to knuckle down and use the first few months of 2017 to up the ante and do everything we can both individually and collectively to encourage more people to start or grow a business in the North East and attract more inward investment from other parts of the UK and around the world.

But this isn’t just pie in the sky wishful thinking. We already manufacture and export more goods to the EU than any other UK region and have a thriving IT/tech/digital/creative sector that research has shown is the second fastest-growing in the country after London. Our low cost of living yet high quality of life, plus five fantastic universities churning out thousands of excellent graduates each year also makes it a very attractive place for established businesses to re-locate or open another office.

Despite all this, we still lag behind other areas of the UK in terms of business startup and scale up rates as ‘entrepreneurship’ is often seen as something that is done elsewhere and too many people are afraid to start that business they’ve always wanted to do, for fear of failure or ridicule. However, we have a rich and proud heritage of innovation and invention here in the North East which was the catalyst for the industrial revolution and tipped the power of balance away from London and the South East and towards ‘the North’.

It’s for this reason that my team and I are pulling together a 5-day, citywide ‘Newcastle Startup Week’ between 15-19 May with support from the North East LEP, Sage, Federation of Small Businesses, Blu Sky Tax, GP Bullhound and more to remind ourselves and others what a great region we are and to act as the catalyst for a new industrial revolution that begins right here in Newcastle upon Tyne.

I hope you can join us by ‘registering your interest’ at http://newcastlestartupweek.com or helping to spread the word through your network.

A history lesson in business startup support in Newcastle and the North East of England

This presentation was first delivered to Geography students at Newcastle University on 21st November 2016 as part of a 3rd year module on ‘Local and Regional Development’.

In it I give a brief overview of how UK Government and EU initiatives have supported business startup activity in Newcastle and the North East since the 1980s alongside private sector projects driven by the grassroots tech/digital/creative community including my own personal endeavours.

Please feel free to share and let me know if you’d like me to deliver this presentation again to your students or organisation by emailing me at paul@plandigitaluk.com or Tweeting me @lordlancaster

Consume Less, Create More

The Old Odeon Cinema on Pilgrim Street in Newcastle upon Tyne has stood empty and unloved by its’ owners, The Reuben Brothers / Motcomb Estates (billionaire property tycoons who topped the Sunday Times Rich List 2016) since closing to the public in 2002.

Old Odeon Cinema

Despite long-running campaigns by various groups in the city to restore the former 1930s Paramount Cinema to its’ former glory or at least clean up the facade, and recent promises by Newcastle City Council that they would enter consultation with local businesses and members of the public which don’t appear to have happened, the owners submitted an ‘Application to Demolish a Building’ to Newcastle City Council on 10th October with demolition ‘due to begin on 1st November’.

Old Odeon Application to Demolish a Building

This application has been signed by GVA Grimley Ltd (the largest independent commercial property agency in the UK) on behalf of Taras Properties Ltd who own the majority of the 10 acre site around East Pilgrim Street, including the fantastic former police and fire station and apparently have plans to turn this into a mixture of retail and/or student accommodation (enough already)!

Who cares?

Although the Old Odeon Cinema is a privately-owned building, many people in the city (including me) are upset and saddened at the thought that a once-listed building and possibly the only remaining Paramount Cinema in the UK will be demolished to ground level and replaced with a ‘retail centre’ that will no doubt be well-constructed but is unwanted by the local business and creative sector community and out of character for that part of the city.

The Site Notice says people have until Monday 31st October to ‘make any comments in writing’ and so 61 comments (mostly objections) have been left on the Newcastle City Council website at:
https://publicaccessapplications.newcastle.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=neighbourComments&keyVal=OEVCOMBSK4N00

Another 1,500+ people have so far signed the ‘Save the Odeon Cinema (Newcastle upon Tyne) at:
https://www.change.org/p/newcastle-civic-centre-planning-department-save-the-odeon-cinema-newcastle-upon-tyne?recruiter=534108044&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

There is also a ‘Save Old Odeon Newcastle’ Facebook Group (with 575 members) at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveNewcastleOdeon/

Why do they care?

Old buildings have memories and evoke strong feelings of nostalgia which people want to protect. (From a personal perspective, the Old Odeon Cinema is where I went to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom). Although I love the idea of restoring the old cinema to its’ former glory, the main objection I and everyone else has is the idea of complete demolition so at the very least, I would like The Reuben Brothers / Motcomb Estates / Taras Properties / GVA Bilfinger to save the front of the building which would look fantastic once cleaned up and show that they are being sensitive to the wishes of the local community.

(The reasons for this are eloquently outlined by John Matthews, Chairman of the ‘Northumberland and Newcastle Society’ in this article published in The Chronicle / Journal on Tuesday 25th October http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/can-campaigners-newcastles-historic-odeon-12077193).

A missed opportunity?

Furthermore, people are concerned that demolishing a building of such historical and cultural importance (in addition to being a cinema, iconic bands and artists like The Who and Bob Dylan once played there) would be a huge mistake and missed opportunity for the owners.

Firstly, there are lots of empty retail units in Newcastle and Fenwick (the major department store on Northumberland Street) ‘painted a gloomy picture for the future of the UK retail sector’ in a recent Chronicle / Journal article at http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/newcastles-fenwick-paints-gloomy-picture-12037638 which suggests there simply isn’t enough money to go around to support more shops.

Secondly, the area immediately surrounding the Old Odeon Cinema has a thriving creative / cultural / digital sector which has grown organically in recent years and which I believe should be supported and nurtured with the cinema ideally developed as some kind of creative and cultural hub like The Melkweg in Amsterdam (https://www.melkweg.nl/en/info/about-melkweg/) which could be used for live music performances, art exhibitions, digital music, film and TV production studios too.

You can see a Google Map I’ve created of creative / cultural / digital organisations and venues in the immediate vicinity (including the award-winning Campus North co-working and event space where I am based) at https://drive.google.com/open?id=18wCzPxKtuiO0Tris–Dq3XC5Ckc&usp=sharing which clearly shows that this part of Newcastle already has a cultural cluster which the Old Odeon Cinema could be the focal point for.

Ultimately, this is a case of some uber-rich property developers who have shown little interest in supporting or developing Newcastle city centre over the years, seemingly running the area down deliberately, ignoring the wishes of those who live and work in the city and then demolishing a much-loved and iconic building to replace it with a new building that will suck money out of local people’s pockets and make the owners even richer. Property prices and rents will then rise, forcing the local independent businesses out and the cash-strapped council apparently has little power or appetite to stop this from happening.

Britain needs less places to consume things and more places to create them so if The Reuben Brothers are listening, it’s not too late to change your mind…

North East England: #InventingTheFuture

On 16th June 2016 I had the following short article published in The Journal, the biggest business newspaper in the North East of England.

The success is there but who's taking notice?

My original submission to The Journal ended with a call to action where readers could visit this blog to find out more about what I was proposing but this was missed off the final printed version. So, here’s what I’m suggesting which has got a very positive response from people who have read it and seen it on social media…

The potential campaign slogan / place marketing strapline I’ve proposed is:

North East England:
Inventing the Future

And on social media, I’ve been asking people to start using the hashtag #InventingTheFuture and/or #ThisIsMINE (as in ‘This Is Made In North East’) when sharing photos of things that show what an innovate region we are or which they’ve made, both physical and digital.

In order for this to work, the campaign needs to be community-driven, grassroots-led and adopted by the people for the people. I don’t want any money for this myself but am looking for some partners or sponsors to provide some funding that can be used to pay some North East artists and designers to interpret the slogan and turn it into a more visual format that can be used online and on printed formats.

If you like the slogans and hashtags above, please feel free to start including them on your presentation slides, marketing materials, blogs and social media updates e.g.

And if you’re an artist or designer, I’d love to see how you can include the slogans and hashtags in your work so please email examples to me at paul@plandigitaluk.com or Tweet me @lordlancaster

Take a look at the Storify blog ‘North East: #InventingTheFuture‘ for some examples of things people have been Tweeting so far, including:

https://twitter.com/lineandmalt/status/760616838942322689

https://twitter.com/lineandmalt/status/761693533464133633