North East England Chamber of Commerce members heard a detailed review of how businesses have tackled the Covid challenges as well as the substantial achievements and growth of some companies over the past year.
Opening the meeting, Lesley Moody, Chamber President, (AES Digital Solutions) paid tribute to the hard work of all members of the region’s business community and said she saw confidence improving. She also highlighted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on young people trying to get on the career ladder in sectors which had been so hard hit by the lockdowns.
The Chamber Northern Annual Review was sponsored by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and its chair Lucy Winskell stressed the importance of partnership working to the region’s success. She said “The Chamber, local and combined authorities, businesses, education and voluntary sector partners and Trade Unions had pulled together in a remarkable way to support the COVID- 19 Response and Recovery plan led by the North East LEP, and have continued to do so. Despite our disappointment about our unsuccessful freeport bid the regional partnership working was exceptional and a great testament to everyone’s positive working relationships”.
Lucy also noted how proud she was about some of the initiatives the North East LEP had mobilised and delivered responsively to support businesses throughout the pandemic, including the £47m Getting Building Fund, the North East Growth Hub supporting over 40,000 businesses to find the support they need to start, grow and survive during the pandemic.
A snapshot of one of the Chamber Partner members past year was given by Womble Bond Dickinson’s (WBD) Newcastle Partner Nigel Emmerson. He shared the news that the legal practice will be moving from its Quayside base to a new and improved workspace at the Spark on Newcastle’s Helix development.
Nigel told Chamber members that within three days of the first national lockdown the firm’s 1,100-strong UK workforce, including around 450 professionals based in Newcastle – the firm’s largest UK office – were set up and working from home. Business continuity and resilience planning played a key part in the success of this. It was a major logistical feat and not only has it worked well but it is shaping how the firm intends to return to work now that restrictions are easing.
Working from home has been an undeniable success of WBD and one that is set to continue, albeit in a hybrid way. Technological developments like electronic signatures have transformed the way in which legal documents are executed and Microsoft Teams enabled the firm to find new ways of working that suit its people without adversely affecting productivity.
Nigel Emmerson also outlined the way the firm will work from the new office, due to be reality in June 2022. The firm is looking to create specific zones for different work activities, whilst maintaining confidentiality. There will of course be fixed desks for routine office based tasks combined with quiet spaces such as library rooms. However a large part of the office will consist of different areas intended to facilitate collaboration and innovation including a café to accommodate 90 people.