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Rural CreateNet: Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange for Rural North East Businesses

Creative Fuse North East and the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise have been delighted to have worked with and supported a vibrant group of creative businesses and practitioners from across the rural North East as a part of our new Rural CreateNet programme.

Between October and December 2021, Rural CreateNet brought together a wide range of practice and experience including visual arts, photography, community arts, through to illustration, virtual reality and hyperlocal media. Through the creation of this rural network of practice and peer-to-peer learning, participants shared their own unique experiences and discussed opportunities for collaboration and what it means to work in or across rural markets. Topics included working more remotely, coping with unforeseen events like the recent Storm Arwen and the impact that has had on connectivity and reaching markets, to responding to new opportunities to work together and start new work.

“Hearing other people’s stories and being part of this group has been really lovely! It’s been autumn/winter so I haven’t been out much, and I work from home so just having two hours a week where you are seeing other faces and having conversations, that in itself is really lovely. I’m beginning to understand what the opportunities are and who puts money into the area and it’s really interesting and really helpful.”

The goal of Rural CreateNet has been to uncover what it means to be a business operating in the rural areas of North East England, lending a voice to the small enterprises that enrich our rural towns and communities. Each session is driven by contributions from participating rural businesses and practitioners and has uncovered a fantastic mix of stories, perspectives and knowledge benefitting the group as a whole.

“I’ve found it really, really good. It’s really interesting to meet people who I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t been part of this project. I think there’s some projects that I’m going to be networking with in the future with some of the people involved. I’d like to see this group link up with the next cohort if possible. Having the outside presenters has been really good because I wasn’t aware of the wider opportunities out there.”

Each weekly session has been framed around presentations from the participants as well as invited external speakers, with discussions, shared ideas and views on key and emerging themes. This has included numerous open and shared stories of developing, adapting and growing respective businesses and practices, navigating the world of digital selling and online marketplaces (MayFli); building vital connections between Hexham-based businesses and the residents of Northumberland, ensuring local stories and voices are seen and heard (HexhamTV); to accessing investment and support, and giving time to genuinely explore shared challenges and opportunities.

“It’s been brilliant. There’s been some great things and ideas and everything else come out of it! One of the things that strikes me, more than anything, are there are various other networking events or whatever, but there isn’t anything like this where you get to talk about ideas and share ideas.”

Rural CreateNet has opened up space for dialogue, sparking new connections and collaborations, centring the voices of the businesses throughout the programme. The workshops have begun to tease out valuable themes such as placemaking and the value of cultural assets, and the importance of engaging communities through (and for) storytelling. It has emphasised the value of informal networking to rural creatives and that innovation is as much about ideas and exchanging knowledge and sharing learning as it is about ‘harder’ outcomes like developing new products and services. Above all, it has been great to see new connections build between businesses and practitioners, igniting a desire for collective action when it comes to opportunities for accessing and promoting all that rural businesses have to offer.

Sign up to our 2022 cohort here!