ALMOST 300 new businesses have been set up during a three-year drive to create a new spirit of enterprise and boost employment in a former North East coal mining stronghold.
Seven years ago, the Wansbeck area of Northumberland had six times fewer businesses per 10,000 population than some London authorities.
The Go Wansbeck programme – which was officially launched by Ashington-born Metrocentre developer Sir John Hall in the summer of 2007 – secured more than £16m in Government funding to help transform its economic fortunes.
The cash investment was awarded to tackle Wansbeck’s dismal enterprise record, which included an unwanted reputation as one of the country’s worst areas for new business start-ups.
Now it has been revealed that £2m has been distributed to 288 new businesses – almost two a week – since the programme started.
This year alone, 70 new businesses have benefited from Go Wansbeck funding, and last month a carpet fitter from Ashington became the latest of the new generation of entrepreneurs.
Three years ago Sir John said the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative funding would help his home area recover from the damaging loss of the pits and its historical reliance on big employers.
As well as direct grants to new businesses, the Go Wansbeck programme, which ends in 2011, has provided significant funding for property projects, such as new office schemes and the planned re-development of the Tesco supermarket in Bedlington.
Its third anniversary was recently celebrated with some of the new businesses which have been helped.
These include The Solar Energy Centre in Ashington, which was set up by husband and wife team David and Aileen Pollard, now employs eight people and achieved a £1m turnover by the end of its second year.
Yesterday Mrs Pollard said: “Go Wansbeck has been fantastic for us and so many other businesses in the area. It has helped create a greater feeling of confidence in an area which had more than its fair share of problems over the years.” Go Wansbeck has helped 89 businesses find and move into premises in the district. Newbiggin-by-the-Sea’s Front Street has been transformed through grants to shopkeepers, and it is hoped that work will start soon on a maritime heritage centre aimed at attracting more visitors to the village.
Last night Go Wansbeck chairman, Brian Smith, said: “When we set out we had a 10-year plan and there is still a lot of work to do, and a continuing need for enterprise development in areas like Wansbeck to properly complete the job.
“I hope that whatever new arrangements are put in place, the coalition Government recognise the need to deliver enterprise support that is responsive to local community needs.”
As part of the project, the Wansbeck Enterprise Education Network has worked with thousands of schoolchildren in Wansbeck, to embed a spirit of enterprise and make starting their own business a real option for local young people.