The feasibility study commissioned by the RSA North West Regional Fellowship Team to map current enterprise hub activity in Manchester and consider options for the RSA to work in partnership with local organisations to develop an RSA supported (Re)Make hub. The research conducted by Jo Wiggans from The Aim Higher Network involved discussions with RSA Fellows in the region and some national staff and desk research and follow-up interviews and visits to hubs in Manchester.
RSA existing activity in the region includes events, meetings and projects organised by the regional Fellowship team. At the time of this research, it also included development of initiatives by the RSA national team.
The research found a dynamic enterprise culture in Manchester supported by hubs centred around the universities, in the city’s northern quarter, and in the regeneration area to the north of the city centre. Hubs range from those offering incubation units and office facilities, business start-up support to new or established enterprises to those that provide initial support for ideas and design development special facilities for the creation of manufacturing prototypes using digital technologies. These services are offered to individuals or small teams or community groups. New hubs are also under development. In addition, there are important network organisations that provide a platform for sharing ideas and collaborating on projects.
Existing hubs provide support to both commercial and social enterprises, some specialising in specific areas – environmental projects, science and technology, or media production for example. Discussion with Fellows led to the identification of three areas of specific interest: food, textiles and community management of public facilities.
The study concludes that there is an active community of enterprise hubs and networks in Manchester offering support to a wide range of new businesses. These hubs are generally keen to work with the RSA on the development of services or facilities although some issues were raised about confusion about the role of different parts of the RSA and concerns about local credibility for the RSA in moving from debating to doing. Hubs particularly valued the RSA national profile and expertise in engaging people in policy discussion and the potential to tap into the rich seam of experience in the Fellowship.
Given the strength of current hubs and the fact that new projects are already under development, the regional team would wish to address those areas that are less well represented in current provision. The research also identified areas for development. These include collaboration between enterprises to access funding and to grow capacity; action research; drawing on the Fellowship for mentoring and other support; knowledge exchange and policy connectivity.
Planning for a pilot period of one or two years, the following are the recommendations for action:
- Engage Fellows in active roles that support current social enterprises and projects within the existing hubs.
- Work with Fellows, through regional meetings and events, to discuss further the options for RSA partnership work with a focus on one or more of the following:
o Collaboration to build capacity for existing and new entrepreneurs
o The development of ‘make spaces’ that incorporate the use of digital technologies and the principles of sustainability (the (Re)Make concept).
o Provision of additional manufacturing opportunities and product development with a possible focus on food and textiles initially.
o Support for community ownership and/or management and development of public facilities.
- Work with the RSA central staff to facilitate local opportunities to feed into the research and discussions of the City Growth Commission in order to increase the influence that entrepreneurs and those who work with them can exert on the development of future economic policy for the city.
- Revisit the hub study and specific project ideas at the end of 2014 or when other RSA North West based developments are clearer.
- Provide regular progress reports to Fellows to encourage engagement.
We will let you know of further developments as we go along.