Our annual Christmas letter often begins with a gentle tap on the region’s business barometer to check current conditions and the forecast ahead for the North East business community before even putting pen to paper.
So, after two years of intermittent lockdowns, economic turbulence and everything from personnel to product shortages, you could be forgiven for thinking this would be somewhat of a disheartening read.
However, the startling reality is, that despite the many challenges we’ve all faced, both personally and professionally over the past two years, the solidarity shown by the British public during what was, and remains, the most testing post-war crisis we’ve faced, not only captured our hearts, but also the imaginations of our entrepreneurs.
Over the past two years, our team has supported the launch of more social enterprises than ever before, from community arts and wellbeing organisations to comedy clubs and co-operative food stores helping eradicate food poverty and waste.
And while stores such as Debenhams, Topshop and Thorntons closed their doors for the final time and sounded what many thought would be a death knell for our high streets, many of the region’s SMEs bucked the trend by continuing to innovate and grow.
Debbie and Gillian, who the majority of you will recognise as the warm, smiley faces that light up most of the region’s networking events, have worked with businesses through the Innovation Programme to bring new products and services to market and ensure our businesses continue to punch above their weight on the global stage.
The success of our programmes is testament not only to the incredible work put in by everyone at the BIC to deliver the initiatives, but also to the resilience and incredible determination displayed by the region’s business community during – and after – the pandemic.
Historically, the people of the North East have been known for their doggedness and refusal to be defeated, and our businesses have proven they are just as resilient in recent times.
In fact, over the past 12 months, occupancy rates at our sites exceeded 95% for the first time in our 27-year history. What makes this even more remarkable is that this time last year, as I sat down to pen this exact same letter, I was posing the question of whether the office was a thing of the past. Judging by our car park and café, I’d have to say it certainly isn’t!
While the rise of hybrid working has inevitably changed the way we do business forever – and probably for the better – the lockdowns and periods of isolation have made us appreciate our colleagues and workplaces more than ever before.
This has certainly been the case for the forward-thinking guys at ISG Group. The creative industries have arguably been hit harder than any over recent years, but this hasn’t put a stop to their endeavours.
Having signed a deal to take over the entire Jupiter Centre at the North East BIC last month, the company will soon set up its first ever ISG Hub, benefiting not only the artists and creatives working at ISG, but providing a stage for those in the arts and culture sector from across the region to progress their careers and showcase their talents, creating a centre of excellence for generations of creatives to come.
Meanwhile, just down the A1 at our sister site in Darlington, the incredible success of Business Central has been such that we’ve accepted an invitation to open a second business hub in the town, with Innovation Central set to open its doors next year.
The arrival of Innovation Central, fused with our growing start-up, social enterprise and innovation programmes, will see us double-down on the range and quality of support we’re able to offer the region’s businesses as we – and the rest of the UK’s business community – look to re-emerge from the pandemic on the best possible footing in 2022.
While we’ve all rallied together over the past year to overcome challenges which for almost all of us were completely unforeseen, I think I speak for everyone at the BIC – and probably the entire North East, for that matter – when I say how proud we are of you – the business owners, employees and innovators – that have helped pave the region’s remarkable road to recovery.
So, before you excitedly put on your out of office to spend some very deserved down time with your loved ones over the festive period, please take a moment, just before you leave, to reflect upon just how amazing a job you have done and how fortunate we are to be in the positions we find ourselves in today.
I would also like to personally thank each and every member of the BIC team for their hard work, dedication and professionalism. I’m surrounded by expert and skilled colleagues who have a vast array of experience and continue to provide me with a different perspective on the world.
I’d also like to thank all of our partners without whom we could not deliver the range and quality of services and support to businesses across the region.
On behalf of the BIC team, as we hopefully put the worst of the pandemic behind us, I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and prosperous 2022!