Ne1 New Chief Executive Takes An Optimistic View Of City's Future

Issue 71

Stephen Patterson, the new Chief Executive of NE1 Ltd is optimistic about the North East's future as the nation emerges from lockdown and businesses get the green light to get back to work. After 13 years with award-winning, Business Improvement District Company, Newcastle NE1 and as one of its founding members, Stephen is well placed to assess the city's fortunes and to give an insight into what Newcastle needs to emerge stronger from the Covid crisis.

Throughout the pandemic the talk has been of creating an environment for businesses, cities, and the nation to bounce back better, not simply to restore the pre-pandemic status quo.

Here in Newcastle, businesses are well placed to emerge stronger from the crisis and people are keen to make changes that will deliver a better future for themselves and the city, but it is not going to be plain sailing. Many businesses are still struggling from the stop-start economy of the last 16 months.

Challenging times still lie ahead for these businesses as they negotiate the return of staff from furlough and the phasing out of business support, but there is cause for optimism and excitement. The pandemic highlighted the benefits and what can be delivered when people pull together and work collaboratively.

You only need to look locally at the Grainger Market, a prime example of what can be achieved. The market shifted its operations to an online, delivery model within days of the first lockdown.

Staffed by teams of willing volunteers, the market continued to serve its loyal customer base and gained hundreds of new customers into the bargain. Similar success stories were seen across the city with restaurants and other businesses moving to online and take-away services almost overnight. This success was driven by resilience and innovation, two of the North East’s intrinsic characteristics.

As a region, we are renowned for our adaptability, which we need now more than ever, combined with ambition to ensure the city ‘builds back better’. After the repeated lockdowns and false dawn re-openings, we can now look forward with confidence to the full return and reopening. There is still huge untapped potential in Newcastle and opportunities for the city to improve and grow as we re-emerge. We need to be relentless in our efforts to secure every possible advantage for the city, its businesses, and its people. The first step to achieving this is to make the most of our assets. The Quayside, in particular, is a jewel in Newcastle’s crown and to date has been underexploited. We have a waterfront that is certainly comparable with Copenhagen, London’s South Bank and Melbourne, we just need to make more of it. Large swathes of the Quayside are still underused and unconnected, and we want to change that. It is part of our business plan to seize the opportunities the Quayside presents and ensure that it plays its part in helping Newcastle maintain its position as a modern, European regional capital city. This summer, the Quayside is a key focus for NE1’s Summer in the City activity and events programme. We have created a linear park along a 700-metre expanse of the waterfront with pavement installations, planting, dramatic pop-up parks and exciting things to see and do. These summer interventions, which will remain in place until September, will trial a transformation of the area that we hope will demonstrate what could be achieved permanently. By showing how the area can look, feel, and operate, we hope it will signpost and encourage more permanent changes. Our long-term goal is to transform the Quayside into a permanent linear park, in the same vein as the New York High Line, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. To achieve this we want to make the most of the Quayside both on and off the water and extend the Quayside’s reach beyond its most populated stretch to improving links to the Ouseburn in the East and to the Riverside and hotels in the West. We have found from experience that temporary interventions are a great way of trialling initiatives and showing how an area can be transformed.

We have had previous success with summertime trials on Blackett Street, a busy bus route in Newcastle. Over the past few years we have hosted NE1’s Blackett Street Family Fun Weekends closing the road temporarily to vehicle traffic and creating a pop-up park along the route with astroturf, family friendly seating, outdoor games and activities and even fairground rides. Closing the road and activating the area totally transforms and enlivens the space, making it an ideal destination for families and visitors to come and enjoy the city. The City Council is currently considering making the road closure permanent. We hope this year’s summer interventions will signpost the way for a better future for the Quayside. For NE1, the city’s success is about valuing and making the most of what we have and seizing the opportunities to grow and improve the offer for the benefit of existing residents and workers, and to attract new visitors and businesses to the city. One of the few remaining steps in the city’s bounce-back story is to welcome back office workers en masse to the city centre. They have been sorely missed as they are an intrinsic and essential part of the city’s ecosystem. We are excited by their return in the coming weeks, and look forward to new office developments coming on stream and the reported relocation of thousands of HMRC workers from Longbenton into the city centre.

Having people back working daily in its heart and offices full is the lifeblood for any city and adds vibrancy that has been missing since lockdown began. Newcastle is already ahead of the national average for footfall returning and we hope this will continue to grow over the coming months as offices refill and families, tourists, and locals plan visits to the city centre to enjoy NE1’s wide-ranging Summer in the City programme, as well as Newcastle’s famed leisure, hospitality, and retail experiences.

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