National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE)

We are delighted to be a partner in the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE). Together with the CCRI, we form the Southwest team, working with the Enterprise Research Centre at Warwick University and the Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) at Newcastle University. Research England is funding this exciting research collaboration for three years, which started in September 2020.

NICRE research activities and outputs at the RAU are led by NICRE Deputy Director Professor Tom MacMillan.

Aims of NICRE

NICRE’s aims are to develop and discover the possibilities of the UK’s rural enterprises. We focus on expanding our current knowledge through research, working with rural businesses and communities, in order to discover new ways to innovate and support rural enterprise. NICRE prioritises effective and meaningful change for rural businesses by encouraging innovation and opportunities in rural areas. They ensure that these innovations are sustainable and enduring, and could be transferred to other areas in the UK. NICRE makes use of the combined expertise of our higher education partners, from the Universities of Newcastle, Gloucester, Warwick, and the Royal Agricultural University. (For further information on NICRE please click here)

NICRE aims to shift the policy narrative about rural economies and unlock their innovation and potential in England. It has three primary aims realized in corresponding workstreams: To

  1. Strengthen and improve access to and improve a research and evidence base of challenges and opportunities for rural organisations and communities. This aim will be realised via all four cross-cutting themes (Productive, smart, engaged, and resilient rural), drawing on domains of existing research excellence among the partnership (Newcastle lead).
  2. Work with businesses, rural communities, and economic development agencies to catalyse place-based rural demonstration projects to tackle the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges and road-test rural solutions. Rural economies are well placed to drive and benefit from socio-technical change as test beds for innovation. Examples of more creative responses to ageing populations, harnessing digitisation for goods, services and people, and realising the value of natural capital for clean growth (CCRI lead, Gloucestershire and Royal Agricultural Universities).
  3. Reduce barriers to greater rural productivity and innovation arising from weak policies and support services for rural firms, and by building capacity among rural SMEs via their advisory networks (Warwick lead).

Photo credit: Tommy Kwak

NICRE research activities fit under these four themes:

Productive rural: This theme focuses on how government policy and business support services can effectively benefit rural enterprise, enabling its contribution to the economic productivity of the UK.

Smart rural: This ensures that rural businesses can keep up with modern challenges, such as big data and clean growth, by analysing their impacts on rural economies.

Engaged rural: This encourages rural economies - which consist of many small, self-employed, home-based businesses - to connect with researchers and wider networks that can enable their innovation.

Resilient rural: This explores the importance of the rural UK’s natural assets to the success of rural economies, whilst encouraging a balance between growth and sustainability.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt

RAU staff are involved in

  1. Co-leading the rural creative industries work-stream as part of establishing the evidence base
  2. Analysing the Longitudinal Small Business Survey with Warwick University colleagues on business advice taking behaviour of rural businesses and their exporting behaviours
  3. Finding ways to analyse the significance of natural capital for the rural economy - Professor Tom MacMillan

Follow NICRE on Twitter @NICRErural or LinkedIn.

Ongoing activities/projects

Innovation project on rural micro-clusters with Sussex University

Research into creative industries – businesses based on creativity, skill and talent – has tended to focus on urban areas and much less is known about the structure and support needs of those based in rural areas. This research strand is investigating how the rural creative sectors contribute to business growth and innovation and how state-funded cultural investments may contribute to rural innovation and resilience. The research is conducted in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and Arts Council England.

Read more about Rural Economy research

NICRE publications we co-authored:

NICRE (2021). What is the contribution of rural enterprise to Levelling Up, and how can this be further enabled? Briefing Paper No.1, March 2021. 

For further NICRE publications please click here.


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