Northern England moves forward on levelling up and breaking barriers down

Senior politicians, business leaders, students and Catapult staff rubbed shoulders at a major conference and exhibition in Manchester at the end of January which championed the Levelling Up agenda and promoted career opportunities.

Several hundred delegates had gathered for the ‘Convention of the North’ event to hear Government Minister Michael Gove and his opposition counterpart Lisa Nandy MP speak about the prospects for and need to promote economic growth in northern England. 

But creative ideas really came to life in a large room along the corridor in which guests were free to mingle. Representatives from Connected Places Catapult partnered with the Power Collective CIC – a professional mentoring network aimed at encouraging social mobility and led by Simone Roche MBE, the founder of Northern Power Women. The stand they shared welcomed local mayors Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) and Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region) to give their views. 

Also in attendance were data science students from Salford University and creative media students from Burnley College, who were invited to gain a fuller understanding of how businesses operate and the range of job opportunities on offer through speed mentoring with business leaders from the community. 

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region
“Connected Places Catapult is right behind the Levelling Up agenda. Research and development spend to drive innovation is not equally spread across the UK and coming to an event like this means we can hear what people and politicians are saying and provide support accordingly.” 
Alex Cousins, Business Director for Devolved Government

“Innovations and new ideas that the Catapult enable are crucial to helping northern communities to prosper,” added Alex. “We are also talking to young people about the importance of networking. Many jobs in future will be in brand new industries that we are working with business academia and civic leaders to create, so the best thing students can do now is to build their networks and find out more about the world of work. 

Students ask the questions 

Among the students on the stand was a group from Burnley College interviewing and filming mentors and mentees associated with the Power Collective networking group, as well as local Mayors. 

One of those asking the questions was Harrison Pearce, who wanted to know from those being mentored what they will take away from the day. He also asked mentors what advice they have for students, and local Mayors for their thoughts on how having young people at such events can help promote the Levelling Up agenda. 

“Everyone we’ve spoken to has been very positive,” Harrison said. “Today it feels we are being treated more like professionals than students.” 

Industry engagement specialist from the college Fiona Gibson said the students will benefit greatly from taking part in Convention of the North. “They are putting into practice the theory they are learning, gaining confidence and will be empowered to pursue career paths with more knowledge and insight.” 

Simone Roche MBE addresses event delegates
“We are blessed with so many amazing people here today and have mentors from many professional sectors who are helping to bring the world of work to life. We are also helping to bust the myth that it is ‘Grim Up North’.  
Simone Roche MBE, Founder of Northern Power Women and the Power Collective

Catapult out in force

At the event the Connected Places Catapult took the chance to raise awareness of its work, including its involvement in the Inclusive Innovation Network and the UK Innovation Districts Group through which best practice is shared to help build an inclusive innovation economy. It also promoted ‘Joining the Dots’ – a peer to peer learning partnership between civic leaders in the UK and Ireland. 

Members of Connected Places Catapult present in Manchester included Place Development Lead Catherine Hadfield, who was there as one of several mentors to younger people. 

L-R: Alex Cousins, Catherine Hadfield, Philly Strahan, Simon Smith

“I spoke with students about the transferable skills and innovation opportunities that their project management and data science degrees bring, and how they can be applicable in any field,” she said. “Being at Convention of the North was an important opportunity for these students to understand how their skills can be applied to tackle some of the challenges and harness the opportunities in the north of England, and to network with key employers.” 

Alex Cousins is interviewed by students

Inclusive Innovation Network Lead Simon Smith heard how policies connect with work taking place in cities, and was keen to see how people can best be supported at the start of their careers. “A phrase I’ve heard a lot is ‘inclusive growth starts from the ground up’ and that is key to me,” he said. “Amplifying what’s happening on the ground and innovative projects that deliver impact and forming policy are what the Inclusive Innovation Network was set up to do. ” 

Simon added that the Convention of the North resembled recent COP climate change conferences, where “key decisions are made and deals are done on the floor” to – in this case – further advance the north of England. 

UK Innovation Districts Group Manager Philly Strahan said the event was a chance to engage in “shared discussion and collaboration” and to stress the importance of co-designing urban improvements with communities involved. 

“It has been great to hear leaders across local and devolved governments recognise the need to involve people on the ground to problem solve locally and tap into the passion and enthusiasm that already exists,” she said. 

Rachael Bampton-Aiken, who runs the Joining the Dots programme, supported the findings of think tank IPPR, which recently published a report highlighting a lack of investment in northern England. It said if the North was a country, it would be second only to Greece in terms of low levels of investment among 39 countries. 

“Joining the Dots delivered a masterclass with colleagues across the UK and Ireland here in Manchester in November. The event was focused on the changing nature of foreign and direct investment with leading academics and think tanks, especially focused around research and development and its importance for the economy. The IPPR report reiterates what the Joining the Dots collective explored.” 
Rachael Bampton-Aiken, Joining the Dots programme

Connected Places Catapult will be back in Manchester for the 2023 Northern Power Women Awards on 20 March, which celebrates the achievements of cross sector role models and organisations in industry and where Connected Places Catapult is sponsoring the Inclusive Innovation award.