WHAT MATTERS TO THE NORTH EAST
Young people and the transition to work

The panellists said that the issue of a disenfranchised youth must be a priority for the whole of the region. “I feel that young people are anxious and feeling a bit left behind,” said Jayne Anderton, Co-op Member Pioneer Coordinator for North East England. “I would like them to have a more of a voice through universities, colleges or even about what happens in their local community.” The panel said that young people are also struggling to access fulfilling work, and that employers are struggling to create opportunities that appeal to the young. They said that “reverse mentoring” could be the answer. “We would happily have young people come in to reverse mentor us,” said Leezah Ahmed, Student Union Officer at Middlesbrough College. “And wouldn’t that be incredibly powerful in terms of making these connections and bridges?” There are some standout organisations that are helping to support young people through this crisis, they added. “We work with young people and early stage founders,” said Charlotte Windebank, Managing Director of FIRST. “And what we’ve found over the last four to five months is how much the business support community has really stepped up.”

Climate change concerns

The North East, like the rest of the UK, must prioritise sustainability and tackle climate change now, the panellists said. ““Climate change and the issues of food, farming and water are going to be absolutely pivotal going forward,” said Caroline Mason, CEO of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. “They will have the biggest impact in terms of health and inequality.” The North East is vulnerable to the impact of climate change. The soft sands of the Northumberland coast, for example, make the area vulnerable to erosion. It is also likely to experience extreme weather.

The panellists were united in saying that taking action on climate change would bring many benefits, from boosting the economy to decreasing waste to bringing down obesity. However, they called for more data to help make the business case. “We need the evidence that if you’re a sustainable business, you will be more profitable, have better relationships with your customers, and better relationships with your staff,” said Caroline Mason. She added: “The integration of sustainability with community cohesion is really important. So local food growing is not only good for our health; it’s good for the environment.” However, progress is already being made, according to Frank Millar, CEO of the Centre for Process Innovation: “Environmentally, there are some fantastic things happening in the North East. We’ve got companies innovating in food production and net zero products – so I stay hopeful and determined.”

Inequality and discrimination persist

Job seekers are being denied roles because of the colour of their skin, warn the North East roundtable panellists. “People are discriminated against based on backgrounds everyday,” said Leezah Ahmed, student union officer at Middlesbrough University. “Ethnic minorities are discriminated against in the job market. But those who are discriminated against don’t know what to do and there’s no-one to turn to.” The issue remains divisive which makes it hard to have meaningful conversations on the solutions to racism, the panellists said. “Employers need to anonymise in a way that prevents employers discriminating based on sex, age or ethnicity and employ purely based on skills and what they have to offer,” advised Sabby Gill, UK&I Managing Director of accountancy software group Sage. “At Sage, we’ve started to do that. We also look at male/female equality and have no all-male shortlists, while speaking to recruitment agencies about the need for them to supply diverse candidate shortlists. It’s the right thing to do but it doesn’t always happen.” He warned that it is hard to spread the message without alienating people: “I work in a town where 98% of people are white. They face problems of poverty and inequality so they wouldn’t understand terms like ‘white privilege’. We need to talk to people and get to the root of issues of why people discriminate. We need to start talking to people about why they feel that way and educating them.” COVID has amplified all kinds of inequality, the panellists said, creating bigger divides than ever before. They said the solution is to invest in education and provide the data that proves diverse and inclusive workforces generate better financial results.

STANDOUT INITIATIVES

Preserving the world for future generations

The North East England Climate Coalition, was formed to be a cross-sector initiative, uniting the region in “tackling climate emergency, reversing ecological collapse and delivering an urgent transition to net zero emissions.” It aims to make the North East the greenest region in the UK.

Celebrating social entrepreneurship

The Social Entrepreneur Index celebrates the social impact, creativity and innovation of the UK’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs. The campaign, powered by UMi, in partnership with Social Enterprise Mark, Inspiring Women Changemakers and the School for Social Entrepreneurs, focuses on the entrepreneurs behind the businesses, telling their story and providing inspiration to thousands of others to do more and go further in their businesses.

Access to the internet

Operation Wi-Fi is a campaign to create the largest free-to-use open Wi-Fi network for communities as a response to the outbreak of COVID-19. Starting in Hartlepool, Stockport and Birkenhead, it aims to ensure that everyone can maintain vital contact with friends and family during the UK lockdowns and access healthcare information and news.

Helping crisis-hit businesses

Although a national initiative, the National Business Response Network was identified by participants at the roundtable as having had an important impact in the region. It takes requests for vital food and supplies from hard-hit communities and gives businesses the opportunity to help. To date, the initiative, which was set up by Business in the Community (BITC) and The Prince’s Trust, has responded to 3,000 community requests. In August this year, BITC also created its Build Back Responsibly campaign, to help businesses and communities emerge from the crisis stronger and more sustainable.

PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Young people:

Prioritise young people’s futures through schemes that support them into fulfilling careers, and improve collaboration between businesses and educational institutions so that young people know how to access workplace experience. Introduce reverse mentorship schemes to harness the voices of young people.

Diversity and inclusion:

Tackle discrimination both in the workplace and in communities, ensuring recruitment processes are fair and anonymous and ensuring that businesses and communities work together to promote diversity.

Sustainability:

Scale local initiatives that are delivering a more sustainable and healthy future by bringing together grassroots expertise, data and technology. Foster new innovative responses to tackle the impact of climate change on the local community such as local food growth.