Hit by Government budget cuts, Northumberland National Park Authority had to shed a quarter of its staff.
Left with spare capacity at its Eastburn headquarters in Hexham, the authority has played a leading part of a scheme to transform part of the building and grounds into a hub where small and start-up businesses can rent affordable space.
What is now Hexham Enterprise Hub@Eastburn, not only supports the growth of local businesses but also contributes around £30,000 a year to the income of the national park authority.
Uptake of the new business facilities has been rapid and all spaces in the first phase are are now taken.
Four business pods in the gardens of Eastburn are taken, with another four businesses having fixed desk space in a shared office in the building, another three using hot desking facilities and one larger business with its own office.
A garden annexe provides a meeting place, and businesses also have office support services, superfast broadband and wi-fi.
The venture is a partnership between Northumberland Business Services, Northumberland College, and the national park authority.
Tony Gates, park chief executive, told the Minister that the authority was committed to rural growth .
He said: “Eastburn presented us with a great opportunity to make the best use of the authority’s assets .
“We have been extremely pleased with the level of interest, not just in the quality of the accommodation and services and a pleasant working environment, but also in the fact that businesses see positive benefits in being associated with the authority as a trusted body that will deliver long-term growth in rural areas.
“Our challenge will now be to see if we can create the right environment to attract sustainable businesses into other parts of the national park.”
Lord de Mauley cut the ribbon to launch one of the new work pods and spoke to the one of the first tenants, Ian Railton and Laura Woodward from Verandern, a new management consultancy.
Ian said: “The pod at Eastburn is perfect for us. It has everything we need, is quirky and rests in a beautiful setting. We looked at many offices across the North East but we knew the pod was right the moment we heard about it”.
The Minister said: “The rural economy is hugely important to this country, contributing more than £210 billion each year and supporting almost a third of all British businesses.