Enterprising time for growing business hub

The Farm Studio business hub at Lee Moor, near Alnwick.
The Farm Studio business hub at Lee Moor, near Alnwick.

The success of an Alnwick business hub has sparked two similar developments on the edge of town.

All 12 units in the new Enterprise Hub at Cawledge, owned by Northumberland Estates but developed with grant funding through the Rural Growth Network (RGN), are now occupied.

Similar facilities at Lee Moor in Rennington and Hawkhill at Lesbury have been developed and already have tenants signed up even before an official launch later this month.

Michael O’Driscoll, of Northumberland Estates, said: “Since its completion in 2008, the office development at Cawledge had only ever been partly occupied.

“Although the occupying tenants liked the facilities and the site, the units proved to be too big for many of the local businesses originally seen as the target market for the business park when it opened.”

Working in partnership with the RGN and with a joint funding arrangement in place, some of the Cawledge units were reconfigured, making them better suited to smaller and start-up businesses.

The RGN Enterprise Hub scheme aims to help small businesses by overcoming barriers to growth, such as poor infrastructure, scarcity of premises and a lack of business networks.

Aimed at small and start-up firms, they provide quality work space and common support services. Tenants are offered flexible licence agreements.

“It was immediately apparent that this formula was a success,” said Michael. “The new units were soon fully occupied and, one year on, we have no vacancies and some of the occupying businesses have taken extra space.

“We were still getting inquiries though, so we looked around to see what other sites we had that might be suitable to enter into the hub scheme.

“We chose Lee Moor and Hawkhill.

“Lee Moor has now been converted into six workshop-style units with a more industrial feel, aimed at arts and crafts businesses or small-scale manufacturing, whereas Hawkhill has been designed to provide further office space.”

“Pre-launch, we already have two new tenants on site at Lee Moor, one aphotographic business and the other an on line retailer and are hopeful of quick lettings for the rest of the units.

“In my view, the success of the scheme comes from the flexibility it offers small and start-up businesses. The minimum tenancy length is only six months and internet connections and even the office furniture is all provided, except at Lee Moor where the industrial nature of the units makes it inappropriate.

“The communal areas are proving popular with tenants and an ideal place for networking.

“We always thought there was a market but have been surprised by just how much interest there is,” said Michael. “So much so, Northumberland Estates may well look to develop similar schemes elsewhere in the area.”

Antony Braithwaite, chairman of NEFRAN said: “Northumberland Estates has now created an interesting mix of enterprise spaces for micro enterprises in and around Alnwick that are clearly based on the uptake of the Cawledge hub units, meeting the needs of many businesses.

“It is precisely these sorts of schemes in rural areas, that bring into use under-used buildings in imaginative ways that the North East Rural Growth Network is backing’.