Solidarity and support are helping Greater Manchester’s business community to remain resilient

Working with Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, The Growth Company has provided a comprehensive range of support for businesses and individuals navigating the economic impact of coronavirus

The public and private sector responded quickly to ensure that the worst potential economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be avoided in Greater Manchester, where businesses continue to show resilience and solidarity.

Working with Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP), businesses within The Growth Company Group have provided a comprehensive range of business advice and support, with services flexing to meet the evolving needs of the business community.

The breadth of Growth Company expertise enabled timely responses to the evolving crisis, with service provision pivoted to enable digital delivery of services that were not available in person due to lockdown restrictions.

In partnership with business representative organisations including GM LEP, the GC Business Growth Hub’s #HereforBusiness campaign continues to reassure companies they are not alone. It provides specific support for the new challenges presented by coronavirus. This includes extensive support via the Hub’s coronavirus microsite, a series of webinars, and guides on issues such as cashflow management, contingency planning and remote working.

The Growth Company Coronavirus Economic Impact survey was launched to ascertain the most pressing concerns of the business community, enabling Greater Manchester’s response to be tailored accordingly, and providing vital insight to support the UK Government’s response. To date, the survey has been completed by representatives of more than 3,000 businesses.

Part of #HereForBusiness, a series of Strive and Thrive workshops were borne out of conversations with Greater Manchester SMEs, delivering content that would help them to manage the pandemic and develop their businesses.

Marketing Manchester has been especially focused in recent months on leading the way for recovery for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector in Greater Manchester.

It adapted to focus on support for the sector through initiatives including the Tourism and Hospitality Support Hub, which has been running since late March. Almost 2,000 beds were found for NHS workers in partnership with the Manchester Hoteliers Association.

Marketing Manchester has thrown its weight behind lobbying efforts for extensions to furlough and additional support for the sector. It developed the Greater Manchester Tourism Industry Emergency Response (TIER) group comprised of senior leaders from the public and private sector across our tourism, leisure and hospitality sector in preparation for the recovery task that lies ahead.

Early in the pandemic, MIDAS and the GMCA formed a PPE taskforce to source protective equipment for frontline workers.

GC Business Finance is administering the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) in the North West. A further £3m was made available by the GM LEP from the Local Growth Fund to support Greater Manchester businesses through the Greater Manchester Coronovirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to increase lending from £100,000 to £250,000 alongside existing Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund capital. To date, CBILS funding totalling £1.9m has been provided to 21 Greater Manchester businesses by GC Business Finance, including content Manchester-based marketing agency Contentology.

Following the £3m made available by GMCA and the GM LEP, businesses have also been able to access Early-Stage Investment delivered by GC Angels.

Businesses have also been supported in accessing funding and support available from Government, including hundreds of millions of pounds in grants available via local authorities.

In partnership with GM LEP and other delivery partners, Employ GM was launched to provide support for both employers and people whose roles have been displaced by the coronavirus.

It initially launched to connect employers with urgent vacancies to job hunters seeking opportunities and has flexed to provide specific support for sectors with the most pressing need, including retail. It provides signposting to skills advice, mental health support and training opportunities.

Kickstart is a new £2bn Government scheme that is creating hundreds of thousands of Government-subsidised job placements to help young people into work and support the UK’s economic revival.

The Growth Company is working businesses to deliver high-quality placements that go beyond the minimum requirements of the scheme to deliver an outstanding experience.

The Safely Reopening GM campaign launched back in June to support businesses by providing guidance and information to open their premises safely, and restart to economy.

As the economy shifts to reflect the changes brought about by coronavirus, the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter is part of a movement in Greater Manchester to ensure that economic recovery can benefit all.

There are many heartening examples of businesses large and small who have supported the challenge of coronavirus. The Hut Group has donated the equivalent of £10m, including donating £1m to charity and making and distributing £1m of hand sanitizer.

Many hoteliers, including GG Hospitality, have made rooms available to key workers.

Didsbury Gin, Zymurgorium and Tarsier Spirit are all Greater Manchester distillers who switched production to sanitising liquid, providing product to frontline workers in the region.

Allied Bakery, Stockport, has donated hundreds of loaves to needy causes.

Open Kitchen Manchester, the waste food catering social enterprise, has done incredible work, sending out 11,000 meals a week to vulnerable people.

Tibard, Dukinfield, and Saraco Industries, Bolton, are examples of companies who have experienced increased demand for their products. Tibard switched production from chef whites to NHS scrubs, Saraco saw increased demand for its anti-bacterial wipes.

Cllr Elise Wilson, Leader of Stockport Council, GMCA economy portfolio lead and GM LEP board member, said: “In business and in so many ways, we’ve shown that we’re stronger together, more confident, and ready to lead economic recovery for all.”

Working with GM LEP, The Growth Company has been able to offer support to businesses including Animation Toolkit

Getting Building Fund provides £54.2m to support implementation of Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy

Greater Manchester Combined Authority, GM Local Enterprise Partnership and the UK Government agreed the Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy in 2019

Activities supporting the implementation of the Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy have attracted £54.2m in funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

The fund provides money for investment in local, shovel-ready infrastructure projects to stimulate jobs and support economic recovery across the country.

Creating thousands of jobs, introducing measures to reduce more than a million kilogrammes in C02 emissions, and providing support for business and apprentices, the projects selected demonstrate Greater Manchester’s ability to support the UK economy.

The GM LIS was agreed with Government in 2019 and outlines a set of long-term policy priorities to help guide industrial development and provides a plan for good jobs and growth in Greater Manchester. It emphasised Greater Manchester’s strengths in Health Innovation; Advanced Materials and Manufacturing; Digital, Creative and Media; and clean growth.

In August 2020 in response to covid-19, the UK government announced a £900 million Getting Building Fund to deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country. This investment is being targeted in areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic. It is supporting the delivery of shovel-ready infrastructure projects, agreed with mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships to boost economic growth, and fuel local recovery and jobs.

In Greater Manchester, £54.2m has been provided to for seven projects which will unlock commercial space, create over 11,000 job opportunities, bring new superfast broadband, open commercial opportunities in Rochdale and Stockport and create new apprenticeships and unlocks 1,060 houses.

Projects reflect GM LIS commitments to digital infrastructure and green growth.

The ‘shovel-ready’ Greater Manchester projects provided Getting Building Fund support are:

Manchester Innovation Activities Hub, Manchester (£4m):

Creation of a new build 90,000 sq ft commercial innovation workspace, vocational/life skills training for ‘hard-to-fill’ occupations and industry 4.0 training facility within the Oxford Road Corridor Enterprise Zone.

The building will incorporate low carbon technologies to be net zero carbon within the landlord areas. The building will support R&D intensive, businesses working in the areas of Industry 4.0, Digital Technology, Advanced Materials, Engineering and low Carbon.

Completion of Kingsway Business Park Northern Loop, Rochdale (£3.5m):

Kingsway Business Park is a 470-acre site next to Junction 21 M62. Kingsway is 60% of the way through its development period. When completed it would open 9.75 hectares of land for development providing a potential 850 jobs.

South Heywood Link Road, R (Michael Faraday Avenue) Rochdale (£10m):

Construction of the South Heywood Link Road Phase 1 (linking M62 J19 with the South Heywood Employment Area) to create improved access to an existing employment area and open up development sites capable of delivering up to 1000 new homes and 135,000 sqm of employment space.

Mayfield, Manchester (£23m):

Mayfield Park will be 7 acres of beautifully landscaped public park at the centre of one of the most significant, catalytic sustainable and green regeneration developments in the UK. This will unlock the development of 24 acres of central Manchester, derelict for decades, next to Piccadilly Train Station and will become a world class hub for enterprise start-ups and large corporates in 1.6m sq ft of commercial space, 1,500 homes with retail, food and drink facilities, delivering 13,000 new jobs and expected to £7bn in net economic benefit to the local economy over 10 years.

Port Salford Early Infrastructure Works, Salford (£6m):

This early works package would allow for acceleration of the Port Salford rail terminal project – to prepare a regionally significant site for logistics warehousing at Port Salford, adjacent to the A57, M60 and M62 and creation of a 28-acre rail freight terminal. This project includes the diversion of Salteye brook, site preparation including UU main diversion and works to progress securing freight paths from Network Rail to ensure Covid 19 delays are minimised for half of the consented warehousing. The indirect output of this work is accelerated delivery of commercial floorspace, jobs and the ability to link to international markets through the Manchester ship canal, a key sustainable gateway to and from the Port of Liverpool.

Stok – conversion of iconic empty high street retail unit into new workspace Stockport (£3.5m):

Stok is a project led by Glenbrook to repurpose the former Marks and Spencer building that has lain vacant in the heart of Stockport’s Merseyway Centre since 2018. The scheme will provide much needed new workspace in the town centre. This project aligns very closely to Stockport’s Future High Street Fund submission as an unfunded option. As well as diversifying the high street and generating footfall it contributes to the Greater Manchester LIS by proving quality space in a sustainable town centre location. It will create up to 500 new jobs in repurposed retail space. Roof mounted solar PV will ensure green recovery forms part of the proposals.

Stockport Exchange Phase 4 and Clean Energy Infrastructure, Stockport (£6.6m):

Stockport Exchange is an accessible business Hub located within the heart of the town centre and adjacent to Stockport station, within the Town Centre West Mayoral Development Corporation area. To date the partnership has already delivered, 3 phases comprising of two grade A offices, a 115-bed hotel, NCP car park and enhanced public realm. This project will see the acceleration of the programme of future phases of Stockport Exchange to incorporate green energy, job creation and improved public realm. A new build 400 space multi-storey car park (MSCP) is required to unlock Stockport Exchange Phase 4. The next phase will comprise of a Grade A, 70,000 sq ft office building. The MSCP will immediately release the next office development in the masterplan and will accelerate future phases as they will be more viable by not needing to carry the MSCP infrastructure costs. The scheme will also promote sustainable transport including cycling and walking. Clean local energy infrastructure will be built into the whole estate, with roof mounted solar car ports on the MSCP, up to 30EV charging points and retrofitted solar PV on the roofs of 2 Stockport Exchange Office and the Grand Central leisure centre. These schemes form part of the GM Unlocking Clean Energy consortium work and Evergreen wave 2 feasibility work.

The indicative outputs – which are locally reported – demonstrate Greater Manchester’s ability to support the UK in achieving key aims and ambitions, including:

Direct Jobs Created: 11,680

Construction Jobs Created: 1,876

Jobs Safeguarded: 5

New Apprenticeships: 45

Houses Unlocked: 1,060

Commercial Space Unlocked: 204,988 sqm

New Learning Space Unlocked 15,000 sqm

New Learners Assisted: 250

Businesses Assisted: 29

Roads/Cycle Lanes/Walkways Unlocked: 4.5km

R&D Floorspace: 15,800 sqm

Public Realm/ Green Space Created: 55,740 sqm

New superfast broadband connections: 1024

CO2 emissions saved: 1,055,000 kg

Meet GM LEP: Skills champion Mo Isap says an innovative approach to inclusive growth is helping to end inequality in Greater Manchester

Mo Isap became co-chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership in February 2020. An entrepreneur with expertise in technology, skills, education and employability, his private sector experience is helping Greater Manchester to end inequalities through innovation and motivation.

“Diversity to me is that everyone starts at the climbing wall in the same position,” says Mo Isap. “That you can climb it as fast as your counterpart, and be supported at every rock face, and be able to reach the summit equally as fast as everybody else in your peer group – female, BAME, minority, whatever.

“If everybody was able to do that, to traverse those walls at that pace, without getting stuck on a ledge, that’s diversity, that’s inclusivity. That’s all people want: a fair chance.”

As recently installed co-chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Mo is helping to steer economic policies enabling that vision to be realised, innovating to end inequalities and ensure Greater Manchester is the best possible place to grow up, get on and grow old.

Mo has built the entirety of his successful business career in Greater Manchester, starting in the Northern Quarter, Manchester, operating nationally and now headquartered at MediaCityUK in Salford with his latest venture, IN4.0. His business successes include Hobs Plc,  one of the largest Proptech businesses in the UK.

“You can’t build a 20-odd year successful career if the city or the place doesn’t allow you do to that,” he says. “Manchester is a global city but it’s a community. I was very conscious of being from an ethnic minority but in Manchester I never felt that. There’s no better place in the world than Manchester.”

Mo was born into a first-generation immigrant Gujarati Indian family. His parents, middle-class Indians, became “lower working class by default” as immigrants in the 1960s. It provided their son with an invaluable first-hand insight into education as a means of unlocking social mobility.

“My dad was a teacher in India but spent most of his life working in a Lancashire textile factory,” Mo adds. “He had to forsake his professional career for us, to get us the best possible life chance.”

Mo has a degree in accounting and finance and an MBA. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management. He describes himself as a natural student, always learning, and says that has supported his own development as an entrepreneur.

After university, Mo took his first commercial role in a Northern Quarter digital printing business. Sales boomed supplying the area’s burgeoning creative sector. A shareholding director in no time and then managing director and owner, Mo’s success in business meant that he was able to help others, igniting his passion for skills, education, and employability.

He first entered that world formally, 15 years ago, at Star Academies, a Multi Academy Educational Trust that can trace its roots back to a terraced house in Blackburn. Concerned that first generation immigrant families were removing children from mainstream schools for cultural reasons, community leaders began providing private education so that young people could complete their education.

“They clubbed together to find £200 to buy a two-up, two-down terraced house, encouraged retired teachers to work for biscuits, forming Tauheedul Girls’ Schools in 1980, and persuaded parents to send their children to at least complete their education,” Mo explains.

“Their mantra was that the mother’s lap was the first school and that if she could impart a reverence to knowledge and education, then we could have a chance as a community. Otherwise we would be dependents and not contributors in this nation forever and a day.”

Having made a success of his own career, Mo and his colleagues were later asked by the community’s founding fathers to inherit their legacy, which they duly did and formed Star Academies.

Today Star Academies is a multi-academy operating 28 free schools across Lancashire, Yorkshire Birmingham, London and Greater Manchester, including the Eden Boys’ Leadership Academy and Eden Girls’ Leadership Academy in Cheetham Hill. Employing over 2,000 people, Star Academies pupils consistently outperform their peers, compounding Mo’s frustration that many young people are still not provided with the support they need to succeed.

He adds: “The mantra we are faced with in some communities is teachers saying, ‘well, what do you expect? These are kids who don’t speak English, from lower working-class backgrounds, single-parent families, we’re just keeping them on track. Average is good.’”

As vice-chair of the Star Academies trust and chair of their leading boys’ school, Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, Mo sits on national and regional boards aiming to address the remaining inequalities across education. They include the Careers and Enterprise Company, The Greater Manchester Careers and Employability Board and the New Schools Network. That gives Greater Manchester a voice in education and skills at a regional and national level, he says.

Having successfully started and scaled a number of business, including university spin outs and a social enterprise, Mo’s most recent business venture combines his two great passions, technology and skills. IN4.0 Group is headquartered at The Landing in MediaCityUK, Salford, and operates through joint venture partnerships with regional universities. It provides industrial digital technology training, developing and recruiting graduate technology talent into local high skilled employment.

Supporting tech and digital inclusivity, one aspect of IN4.0’s work is to ensure talented young STEM graduates reach their full potential within industry. Success rates for female BAME entrants to the tech sector remain low, and IN4.0 aims to change that.

Mo envisages a virtuous circle in his vision for a Skills City, accelerating the development of diverse talent that might previously have been lost to the digital and tech sectors, and helping them to assume leadership and create jobs and opportunities for future generations. In turn, those skills will attract other employers to the region

Equally, he firmly believes that innovation can help to end inequalities, and that Greater Manchester is perfectly placed to support the UK Government’s levelling up agenda because of its successful track record to date. MediaCityUK is already a great example of an inclusive innovation district, he says.

“Coronavirus has allowed us to understand the significant gap between the haves and the have nots,” he adds. “Middle class people may wonder ‘what’s the problem? I worked hard and got out in the morning, went to work.’ They think it’s a meritocracy but it’s not.

“The fundamental thing is that many young people work hard but working hard doesn’t get them where they want to be. What we need to recognise is the significance of the gap, because just throwing money at it, having good sentiment, isn’t going to change anything.”

Having neatly defined diversity, Mo explains what he understands by the notion of inequality, and what an organisation like the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership can do to tackle it.

“Inequality is to be afforded something that isn’t the best possibility,” he suggests. “The environment around you isn’t the most nurturing, nourishing, supporting environment you can get – the structures, the network, the empowerment, the skills. If you have to encounter disadvantage and handicap, it’s not a level playing field, you’re not giving people a fair chance.”

He says that being invited to join the board of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership was a privilege and provides an opportunity to provide complementary insight alongside many other great minds from different backgrounds, each offer a different perspective.

He adds: “I subscribe to the servant model of leadership and this is no more relevant than in civil leadership. We’re not bosses. Our job is to remove those barriers and let those people have a fair chance and it starts from education.”

Click here to read Mo Isap’s biography on the GM LEP website.

Intelligent soil alternative addresses heightened food security concerns following coronavirus

GM LEP investment supports graphene infrastructure which made Manchester project possible

An intelligent soil alternative that can sense and respond to a plant’s nutritional needs is being developed by scientists using graphene, the 2D super material first isolated at the University of Manchester.

GelPonic could help address heightened global food security concerns following the coronavirus pandemic, drastically reducing the amount of energy and human interaction required to produce food using ‘vertical farming’ techniques.

While vertical farming aims to minimise water use and maximise productivity by growing crops hydroponically in small amounts of nutrient-rich water stacked in a climate-controlled building, high energy and labour costs mean it is not currently considered a sustainable long-term solution.

University of Manchester start up AEH Innovative Hydrogel Ltd has secured £1m of Government funding through Innovate UK for the two-year Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre project to develop a unique, virtually maintenance-free ‘vertical farming’ system.

By using minute electronic sensors to monitor a plant’s nutritional requirements, then automatically release nutrients to its root system, GelPonic has the potential to substantially reduce production costs and labour requirements.

GelPonic relies on a growth substrate – the surface or material from which an organism feeds – for indoor fruit-and-veg that improves performance in numerous ways. The hydrogel growth medium conserves water and filters out pathogens to protect plants from disease, while a graphene sensor allows remote monitoring, reducing labour costs.

Moreover, the production of the growth medium outputs significantly less CO2 compared to traditional solutions and can also be used in areas with drought conditions and infertile soil.

Led by Dr Beenish Siddique, AEH has been supported by the European Research Development Fund’s Bridging the Gap programme and was a 2019 prize-winner in the prestigious Eli Harari competition, run by the University.

Bridging the Gap was developed to proactively engage Greater Manchester-based SMEs and new ventures to allow them to overcome challenges, and explore and apply graphene and other advanced 2D materials in a wide range of applications and markets.

The extra £1m in funding announced by the UK Government is part of a broader £24m spend to assist UK farming through pioneering technology.

“One of the biggest hurdles in controlled environment agriculture is operational cost, which makes it a low-profit-margin business,” Dr Siddique explained. “The fact this system is almost maintenance-free could make a big difference to whether farms can be successful or not.

“We believe there is an opportunity here to change the future of farming not just here in the UK but around the world.

“Globally, around 70% of the fresh water available to humans is used for agriculture and 60% of that is wasted; agriculture also contributes around 20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Our system helps control that waste and those emissions, shortens germination times and could enable an increase of 25% in crop yields.”

GelPonic is among the latest innovations to emerge from the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre in Manchester. The GEIC is part of a £100m+ investment in infrastructure to support the development of applications made possible by the isolation of graphene by scientists at the University of Manchester in 2004.

Graphene technology is already supporting research into new methods of water filtration, advances in healthcare, aerospace and automotive super light-weighting, and battery power.

Supported with £5m of funding from Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the £60m GEIC specialises in the rapid development and scale up of graphene and other 2D materials applications.

The GEIC sits alongside the £61m National Graphene Institute and both are part of the vision to create a Graphene City in Manchester, with scientific research conducted in partnership with industry to deliver prototypes then production. The £235m Henry Royce Institute, which has its headquarters in Manchester, will further boost the city-region’s capabilities as the UK national institute for advanced materials research and innovation.

One of Dr Siddique’s colleagues at the GEIC is Commercialisation Director Ray Gibbs, whose role is to help to bring innovative ideas to fruition through launching start-up and early-stage companies such as AEH. He believes the current pandemic, in tandem with net-zero targets, has sharpened the Government’s focus on investment in innovation.

He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of the UK supply chains, none more so than food supply. Indoor farming allows us to grow food in the UK that would normally come from another part of the world. That contributes to self-sustainability, reduces food miles and means we’re not so reliant on international markets for our food.”

AEH is developing its system alongside project partners and subcontractors including Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), Labman Automation, Grobotic Systems and Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC).

CHAP’s Innovation Network Lead Dr Harry Langford said: “There is a significant market demand for more sustainable hydroponic substrates. This project is an exciting opportunity to optimise and scale-up a novel hydrogel product and demonstrate this product directly to the end-user, within a highly innovative automated production system”.

Supported with £5m of funding from Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, the £60m Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is home to GelPonic
Dr Beenish Siddique