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“Shhhh, it’s supposed to be a secret!” – the North East and its quality of life


For this month's Great Reason to do business in the North East, Arlen Pettitt discusses our great quality of life.

I had been to the North East – Newcastle specifically – precisely twice before I moved here for good.

The first visit was a surprise birthday treat where I turned up at King’s Cross station with no idea where I was going, and so I arrived into the region with no preconceptions and really no clue what I was supposed to do or see either.

Luckily my now-wife Kate had a plan.

She also had an ulterior motive, which I discovered on the second day of our trip when she parked me on the roof terrace of The Forth on a sunny afternoon while she went off for a job interview.

She got the job and I got pleasantly tipsy in the sun while reading the paper.

And so, my second visit to the region was to find somewhere to live.

We talk a lot about quality of life as a huge selling point for the North East and I can personally vouch for the contrast with other parts of the country.

And it’s not just that I could get a pint for under a fiver.

We went from renting rooms in shared houses or flats to a two-bed place of our own – with our own front door and our own back yard – and we saved money doing it.

The prospect of owning our own home went from being a distant fantasy to an achievable reality. The average first time buyer deposit in London (£130,357) is 13 thousand pounds larger than the average mortgage in the North East (£117,518) according to Halifax.

Now, cost is one thing, but location obviously matters too.

In the space of half an hour in the North East you can go from a vibrant cultural centre to a stretch of dramatic coastline or to beautiful open countryside.

Having grown up about as far inland as it’s possible to be, the idea of being able to go to the beach any day you want still hasn’t lost its novelty, nor has the idea of getting lost on a walk in Northumberland or County Durham.

When I first moved up and couldn’t stop gushing about how much better it was than the crowded Tube and overpriced pubs I’d left behind, one thing people said time and again was “don’t tell everyone, or they’ll all want to come.”

I’ve obviously completely ignored those pleas, and now actively gloat about the positives of living here, peppering my social media feeds with pictures of big skies, sandy beaches and the Tyne designed to make those outside the region feel jealous.

I don’t think the North East should stay a secret.

My experience is that the region is a place where it’s very easy to put down roots. You can’t throw a stone in the North East business community hitting someone who thought they’d come here for a bit and who ended up staying the rest of their career.

In my mind there are three key reasons for that.

One – an open, friendly, collaborative culture which values and celebrates hard work, but which doesn’t fetishise it to the detriment of work-life balance.

Two – an industrial heritage which gives both a grounding sense of connection to the past, and inspiration for the future. That inspiration can be seen in the region’s excellent educational establishments – including Chamber Partners Gateshead College (who have been ranked the number one college in the country by the ESFA for the last two years) and Teesside University (who were the first modern university to win THE’s university of the year award).

Three – space. I mean this in a couple of different ways. There’s physical space (the North East has 2.7 million people in more than 3,000sq miles, compared to Greater Manchester’s 2.8m in 500sq miles), but also metaphorical space. It’s a less tangible benefit but the culture and heritage mentioned above, as well as being valuable in their own right, also create the room businesses and careers need to grow and give the opportunity to try things out. When costs are lower and the support is there, the odds are better in the entrepreneurial gamble.

Ultimately, what the North East is about -and this is true of me on a personal level – is potential.

The degree to which the region has remained a secret, a hidden gem, a closed shop or whatever you want to call it, has meant it remains full of untapped potential.

There’s room for productivity growth (where the region is about £8,000 per head below UK average), better graduate retention, pay growth (we’re £36pw behind out neighbours in the North West) and more business start-ups (our business birth rate of 12.7% puts us middle of the pack) to name just a few measures of future success.

I firmly believe we can collectively tap into that potential…then the secret will well and truly be out.