First person piece by the Right Reverend Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle, who is the independent chair of The North of Tyne Inclusive Economy Board.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, I don’t think any of us expected that many months later, we’d still be living under lockdown with all the complications that brings.
This is usually the time of year when many people’s thoughts turn to getting together, celebrating, and seeing those they love. Making plans. Looking to the future. But this is so much harder right now.
This year families have kept their distance, working lives have been up-ended, and communities have been tested by the challenge of coming together while staying apart. Until recently there was no clear end in sight.
I am deeply concerned about the added pressure this virus has placed on the most vulnerable in our society. The impact on young people just starting off in the world, the many who now find themselves out of work, and the communities who often find themselves at the margin of society. I believe that how we respond collectively and together to support them will be the real defining issue of this year.
In March, I was made chair of the North of Tyne Inclusive Economy board. It’s a role I was proud to adopt. The North of Tyne Combined Authority created the Inclusive Economy Board to find new ways to raise opportunity through work and training for people in Newcastle, Northumberland, and North Tyneside, whatever their circumstances.
By doing this, and by working together across the public, private and voluntary sectors, we will help create the more fair – and green – economy that we want to see flourish in our region. Crucially, the board is about doing not discussing: it’s about driving forward real change to move us further, faster towards our goal of creating a fairer and more inclusive economy here.
Its creation was timely. Launching during the first week of lockdown was a ‘now more than ever’ moment. It made our mission clear: to understand the impact Covid was going to have on our people and places, and then deliver an effective response. The pandemic has taught us three lessons.
The first is that by working together, we can recover together. The commitment and enthusiasm of business leaders, employers, unions, civil society representatives and academics around our ‘virtual’ table has been vital. We all understand the insidious role played by poverty in excluding people. This isn’t new news, and neither is the fact that the conditions of poverty are complex.
Coronavirus presented a problem that was complex also.
By harnessing the influence and experience of this region we’ve developed solutions to the pandemic. It’s in this way we will develop solutions to at last begin to tackle poverty.
Secondly, we can learn from each other. This board is all about connecting and collaborating, having new conversations and creating new partnerships.
It is a long-term project that will grow beyond this current crisis.
That joint learning saw our wider region – that includes the seven local authorities from Northumberland to Durham – swiftly resolve a rapid regional response plan to the pandemic, that had the inclusive economic ambitions of the North of Tyne Combined Authority at its heart.
Thirdly, we can achieve more with trust. The IEB is demonstrating how deep relationships, built on trust, are central to establishing meaningful change for people and places. With the urgency of the pandemic driving us forward, it needs to deliver for communities and families in the North of Tyne.
Increasingly we’re talking about not building back better but reimaging and redesigning for a post-Covid future. We know given recent local lockdowns in the North East and nation-wide this journey won’t be quick. But by taking a more broad, collaborative view of economic development, which puts inclusion at its heart, we have the thinking, tools and partners to begin that process of rediscovery. We are committed to giving our people every chance it is in our power to give.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority is doing things differently. And coronavirus, with its far-reaching effects on our jobs, lives, relationships and health has made that need – the need to put people at the centre of everything we do – all the more clear.