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Students aim to boost rural communities with business ideas


Newcastle University students have been tackling some of the most serious challenges facing rural Northumberland, and some of their best ideas could transform the future of remote communities in the region. 

It was all part of the FLUX competition, run by the Careers Service at Newcastle University in conjunction with the Glendale Gateway Trust. 

Glendale, a small rural community of 5,000, is struggling to survive as a balanced community. There is little to hold young people due to poor transport links, limited affordable housing and few employment opportunities. The 20 teams of six students were given the challenge of developing a business plan to help solve these issues, after taking advice from top business experts.  And it is hoped that some of their ideas will be implemented in the Glendale area around the village of Wooler. 

The winning team came up with a plan to set up a cooperative for organic farmers, which would plow profits back into the community. Other ideas, which could also be implemented if they meet with approval by the trust and local community, included; developing more services and activities in Wooler’s Community Centre, building extra housing targeted at young people and organising music festivals.

The fast-paced challenge guided contestants through the entire process of solving a real world business problem, with advice from experts from some of the biggest names in the business sector, such as Aldi, Unilever, Santander, Deloitte, and others.

Newcastle University engineering student Josh Levine, a member of the winning team, said: “This was a great experience for so many reasons. It was good to be given a real life scenario and have to come up with solutions working as part of a team.  It has definitely helped build my skills and made me confident that I will be able to contribute once I start my career, the pace was so fast that we were constantly thinking.

Josh, who wants to set up his own business once he has graduated next year, added: “The advice from the experts was hugely useful and gave a real insight into the business world.”

Patsy Healy, Chair of the Glendale Gateway Trust said: “Glendale faces lots of challenges and encouraging young people to stay in our area is among the most important. If the younger generation moves away, this puts the future of our communities in doubt. For that reason it was great to work with Newcastle University to hopefully come up with some solutions which could make the long term future of Glendale more secure.”

The event, which will become a regular part of the University calendar, is for students from all stages and all courses in the university. No prior knowledge of business or business management is required, as all contestants will be thoroughly briefed before they start working on the problem at hand.

Marc Lintern, Director of the Careers Service at Newcastle University, said: “Everyone was impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm of those who took part. It was a bit like a crossover between The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den.

“Basically, it's about working together as a team to come up with an idea reasonably quickly. Contestants should also use the business meetings effectively, hear out and apply the advice they get from the experts, and then use the remaining time they have to work on their presentations.

“One of the key things about FLUX is, whether you win or don’t win, you get feedback, plus a chance to make new contacts. Employers want to support students by attending the event, however they’re also on the lookout for potential employees. So that’s one important thing to keep in mind.”

There was a £500 prize for the winning team and the chance to represent the university in the National Final of FLUX in Lancaster, which will take place in spring 2014.

published on: 20 December 2013