How we did it... Potteries reinvigorated by enterprise initiative

Project: A business enterprise initiative that has won a national award in an area suffering from severe economic decline.

Mitchell High School: successful juice bar
Mitchell High School: successful juice bar

Background: The area of north Staffordshire known as the Potteries was once a thriving manufacturing base. However, in recent times it has suffered serious decline and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Who Is Behind It? Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council. Funding has come from the single regeneration budget, Advantage West Midlands and private sector sources.

Project aims: To change the Potteries from somewhere with little business enterprise into a thriving area with new industries and many start-up companies.

Skills: Involved Strategic planning, business acumen, partnership building and marketing.

It was branded the worst place in the country to start a business and had 38,000 jobless people living in some of the UK's most deprived areas.

The Potteries was on its knees in 2003 when Barclays described the area as the most difficult place for entrepreneurs to make a mark. It was a long way from the days when the area had become famous for its ceramics. Other industries such as coal, tyres and steel had also once flourished here.

But in the past 30 years, a national decline in manufacturing hit the Potteries hard. Around 60,000 jobs were lost and whole districts fell into decline. To compound this situation, the rate of business start-ups in the Potteries has been the lowest in the country. This is demonstrated by the fact that if the area achieved the national average on this measure, it would have 2,000 more companies.

In the light of this dire situation, regional development agency Advantage West Midlands worked with local county, city and borough councils to create a body that would lead regeneration efforts. The North Staffordshire Regeneration Zone (NSRZ) was created, with the task of establishing a culture of business enterprise in the area.

NSRZ enterprise and innovation strategy manager James Capper describes the task: "It was about encouraging the enterprise culture. When you have three generations of workers who have been employed in manufacturing there isn't the buzz that's needed."

The plan was to start with young children in primary schools and even nurseries, introducing them to the basic ideas of running a business. Now, more than 7,500 primary school children have taken part in business activities.

In other enterprise schemes for children, the businesses are closed once the project is finished. Capper says: "We thought this was absolutely nuts, so we set up a trading business and the children run it." There are now 30 trading firms run by school children, with the help of teachers who receive training. An example of this is a juice bar set up in Mitchell High School, which attracted a £12,000 NSRZ grant.

Adults are also being helped to set up businesses, with 500 start-ups, 1,000 new jobs and many small office units now available in places such as a converted factory. There are plans for more at Port Vale Football Club.

National recognition of the achievements has come in the shape of the Enterprising Britain 2007 award run by the Make Your Mark Campaign for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. NSRZ beat off competition from 11 other finalists.

James Murray Wells, founder of internet firm Glasses Direct and a national Enterprising Britain judge, said: "I am impressed with the community's enthusiasm for enterprise, including the savvy eight-year-olds I met who had learnt the difference between net and gross profit on one of NSRZ's education projects."

Starting with the youngest talent possible, the NSRZ has shown how to begin a turnaround in even the most unpromising situation.

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