The Bishop of Newcastle has urged that people pull together to help businesses and communities hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

Speaking in her role as chair of the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) Inclusive Economy Board, The Right Reverend Christine Hardman said it was important to focus help on those worst affected. Bishop Christine said social distancing rules introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 meant many businesses would suffer and people could lose their jobs.

“When the Inclusive Economy Board was formed to help make sure any economic prosperity created in the North of Tyne goes right down to the people who need it most, I never dreamt how timely it would be,” she said.  “We are obviously really worried about the Coronavirus in terms of our health, but its also going to have a huge economic impact. We must be sensible, but with the latest measures announced there are some businesses in particular which are really going to suffer. We on this new Board are going to be looking very carefully at these economic effects and doing all we can to be as helpful as we can for our economic life in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland.”

The NTCA Inclusive Economy Board will play a key role in the economic recovery of the North of Tyne by building bonds between the public, private and voluntary sectors. It will guide plans to make the Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland a better place for people seeking new or better work, and those aiming to return or get into work for the first time. The board to be launched this week will be made up of business professionals, representatives from the voluntary sector, and members of the public and will be accountable to the North of Tyne Cabinet. Levelling up economic opportunity for people who are marginalised or excluded from the workforce is a key part of the devolution deal that led to the creation of the North of Tyne Combined Authority.

Bishop Christine said: “Small businesses are facing huge difficulty in certain sectors. Tourism businesses along the coast were fully booked for the summer, now people are being asked not to take holidays. Pubs, restaurants, bars, clubs.. Newcastle is a party city and people are now being asked not to go to these places.  It’s too early yet to see what government help is being offered, and although I’m very hopeful there will be help we are going to be facing a very serious situation.”

Bishop Christine, who was invited to chair the Inclusive Economy Board chair by NTCA Cabinet Member for Inclusive Growth and Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council Cllr Joyce McCarty, said the situation facing businesses in the North of Tyne would not be ignored  “My message is that we will be doing our very best to listen, to understand, and not to ignore the very serious situation you are now finding yourselves in. Many people will be worried about their jobs as we speak today and we need to absolutely recognise that fact.”

Cllr McCarty said Mrs Hardman would bring together the best people to put the North of Tyne on the road to recovery. “Bishop Christine is exactly the right person to be chairing our inclusive economy board,” she said. “She’s got a fantastic track record of supporting the people that need the most help in our society. We find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic and although we can’t control the virus, we will do everything we can to protect people’s livelihoods and get everyone back on their feet as soon as possible. This is devolution at its best – bringing together the expertise and energy of a whole range of organisations to help us.”