At Edge, we have been working in collaboration with Gateshead Council to create a new networking event series for businesses in the Baltic Quarter to help them identify new collaborative opportunities, learn about the latest trends, and share insights. After months of research and valuable discussions, we successfully launched our first networking event in the series, receiving excellent feedback. In this blog, you will learn how we created an event series from scratch and all the things you need to consider if you want to build your own.  

After speaking with members of the Gateshead Council, who run the Northern Design Centre, it was agreed that businesses in the Baltic Business Quarter could benefit from increased collaboration and networking opportunities. To confirm our assumption, we decided it was best to investigate this further, before jumping straight into event planning mode. The Edge team created an online survey and distributed it to organisations within the Baltic Quarter to gain a full understanding of what people wanted to participate in and what they would be looking to get out of it. We linked this with a number of in-depth discussions with businesses directly.  

After countless conversations and once the survey data was obtained, we started to shape the style and frequency of the events. The data provided insight into the preferred day, time, and duration of events and highlighted interesting business topics and the amount of time they would like to devote to networking. If you’re planning a new event, I recommend conducting research to ensure you understand what your desired participants are looking for and if there is a gap in the event landscape for your style of events. There’s no better way to understand your target audience than by asking them directly!  

To ensure we had a comprehensive understanding of the current event landscape at the Northern Design Centre (NDC) we attended some existing events. We discovered that both structured and non-structured events can be equally successful, if there was something of value to take away (i.e., new connections or information). We also found that most attendees prefer events that provide free refreshments, including teas, coffees and sometimes food. However, the most interesting thing I noticed is events between the 90-minute and 2-hour mark were more popular than those longer than 2 hours.  

If you’re planning an event, you need to ensure people can fit it into their busy schedules and an event that lasts too long usually means they can’t, or it has to be of high value for them to commit.  

What steps did we take next?  

Once we had finalised the core event details (location, date, time, duration etc.) we discussed the first introductory event itinerary with our partners. The NDConnect Team consists of Edge, Gateshead Council, and many other successful NDC organisations, including Layers, Fueled, Transmit, ArcherIP and NEPO. Each organisation plays a key role in the event series and contributed to the first successful introductory event. For us, collaborating provided us access to a continuous stream of innovative ideas and increased work efficiency. As a team, we were able to overcome challenges and access a wide network of desired participants quickly. Although collaborating with other businesses may not be for you, inviting members of your team from different departments will help improve your flow of ideas and delegating tasks can help you reach your end goal faster.  

We delegated tasks between the group of partners, including the venue and catering logistics. It is important that the logistical details are planned as once your promotional materials are released to your audience, it is exceedingly difficult to change the venue and timings.  

Leading up to the opening event, we focused a lot of time on our marketing efforts. Our event communications specifically focused on B2B promotional materials, including email campaigns and closed LinkedIn groups. Due to the event series being brand new, the marketing needed to be clear and consistent to ensure people understood the event’s purpose and the value of attending. The marketing activities included an introductory email to the NDC and Baltic Quarter database. The first email contained the key event details, a summary of what the event would entail and how to sign up. We followed up with 3 shorter emails summarising the value of attending and a reminder of how to sign up. The frequency of the emails has a direct impact on your open rate and customer engagement. It is suggested that sending 4-5 emails per month leads to the best open rate. However, you will need to try this yourself. Remember, sending too many emails or emails without value and purpose can result in someone unsubscribing.  

P.S. Don’t worry if your event doesn’t take off immediately, consistency and regular communication is key as it can take people to view your marketing campaign up to 7 times before they sign up.  

We also created an NDConnect LinkedIn community group for members of the community to collaborate, access event invitations, and communicate with other people with similar interests or skills. The purpose of the group is to help people maintain their new connections and stay in touch with the latest news and events.  

So, what did our first event teach us?  

Our first event ensured participants were able to network with everyone in the room, without the awkwardness of approaching a group of people you don’t know and trying to join in the conversation. Our facilitated networking activities allowed people to mix with others that they didn’t know and discuss different subjects. We deliberately avoided any hard sales messages. We found that this method encouraged people to be more confident and prevented them from sticking with the people they already knew. Towards the end of the event, we devoted some time to open networking, so people could continue unfinished conversations and spend their time in their preferred way. All the feedback pointed towards our next event continuing with facilitated networking activities.  

Our next event will take place on Tuesday 25th April at 10.30am, we are hosting Food and F-ups. The concept is based on a ‘potluck’ food sharing with participants encouraged to bring food (home-baked or shop bought) and to think of a time in business when things didn’t go as planned. Instead of hearing how perfect and successful people are, we will be listening to the experiences of CEOs and founders overcoming mistakes or unpreventable mishaps. The event will be light-hearted, humorous, and valuable. If you are based in and around the Gateshead Baltic Quarter, you can sign-up here:  

So, what are Edge’s top tips you can take away? 

  1. If you’re planning an event, you need to ensure people can fit it into their busy schedules and an event that lasts too long often means they can’t.
  2. Inviting team members from different departments to help will help improve your flow of ideas and delegating tasks can help you reach your end goal faster.
  3. Don’t worry if your event doesn’t take off immediately, it can take people viewing your marketing campaign up to 7 times before they sign-up.  

Event planning doesn’t have to be crazy and stressful. Just ensure you are delegating your tasks, conducting your research, and giving yourself enough time to plan and prep!  

Thanks for reading,  

Sophie Hoyle  

E-scooters have, at times, been hailed as the saviour in micro mobility and transportation. The way to reduce cars from our towns and cities whilst decarbonising travel. But with less than two weeks to go before Paris calls its public vote to decide their fate on the 2 April, is it time to rethink the future of e-scooters within the UK?  

I think it’s fair to say that e-scooters are the marmite (other brands of yeast extract spreads are also available) of micro mobility. Love them or hate them they are certainly a talking point and have caused significant controversy across the globe since their introduction. Some countries in Europe have a very laissez-faire attitude to them with little to no regulation where they are seen in the same context as a bike. In the UK, the Government chose to undertake trials across towns and cities to understand the impact of them before the future of the mode is decided.  

Initially the Government had planned to trial e-scooters as part of their Future Transport Zones. However, in May 2020 the Department for Transport (DfT) launched an urgent public transport consultation to begin the trials more quickly and in more areas than initially anticipated. The DfT’s consultation sought views on how the trials could operate, vehicle design, speed and power of the scooters and the rules and regulations that should be incorporated as part of the trials. The consultation ran for two weeks and received over 2,000 responses. The consultation supported the DfT to shape the trial regulations and guidelines. They opened expressions of interest from Local Authorities to run trials which resulted in 32 areas operating trials across England in cities and towns to understand the different operating models and nuances in those areas. The trials allow users to rent e-scooters and are currently the only legal way to ride an e-scooter on the public highway.  

The initial trials that began on 4 July 2020 were anticipated to run until 30 November 2021 however this was extended multiple times and is now due to end on 30 May 2024. The extensions allow for further evidence to be gathered, and to build upon the findings of the recent evaluation report. Dare I say that there is another debate around issues within the Government and a lack of leadership in making the decisions and effecting new legislation. Whichever the reasoning behind the 26-month extension, it has caused some difficulties for the operators of the schemes with budgets stretched way beyond their initial planned commitment. The uncertainty of the future of e-scooters has led to a lack of investment, a hiatus for many schemes and some operators choosing to pull away from the UK.  I think it's fair to suggest that the initial bidding or tendering for trial areas by operators was linked to loss-leading investment budgets and an almost ‘land grab’ approach to gain a foothold in the UK with operators anticipating a short trial period and then roll-out beyond.  

The private scooter market is scaling which has little regulation or should I say limited enforcement of current legislation. It was anticipated that the trials would ascertain the demand for this mode of transport and inform the regulations and safety measures for any future legalisation and for private e-scooter use however with the rapidly expanding private market there are growing concerns as to how this can be managed, understood and regulated.   

To comprehensively understand the growing concerns, we are inviting users and non-users to fill out a quick survey to voice their opinions on the potential safety solutions.  


What have the trials shown so far?  

To date, research from the trials has developed some interesting findings here in the UK. The evaluation showed a higher rate of accidents, compared to equivalent bike usage, which may be linked to the novice use of e-scooters. In the year ending June 2021, there were 931 accidents involving e-scooters (including private e-scooter usage). Whilst many of these did not lead to injury, around 250 were considered serious. The trials have highlighted several safety challenges including road infrastructure, helmet usage and rider visibility.  

The trials are proving e-scooters as a valuable mode of transport with over 14.5 million trips undertaken by December 2021. They offer new transportation options with higher uptake by people of low incomes and ethnic minorities whilst providing an alternative to the private car and are being used on regular trips including commuting. 


What are the current regulations for private e-scooters?  

It is currently not illegal to own or use a private e-scooter, they are currently categorised as ‘powered transporters’ and this means that they are currently covered by the same laws and regulations as motor vehicles. This means that they can be used on private land with the landowner's agreement. They cannot be used on footpaths, pavements, cycle tracks, cycle lanes or spaces dedicated to pedal cycles.  

To lawfully use public roads they must pay tax, conform to technical standards, including licensing, registration and driver testing. They must also have insurance. It is therefore virtually impossible to comply with these stipulations meaning that it is a criminal offence to use them on the road. However, if my experience is anything to go by this is already happening. On a recent trip home on a Saturday evening in rural Gateshead I passed 3 private e-scooters on the main road within 5 minutes of each other.  


But do people even realise that private e-scooters are virtually illegal? Are people aware of the rules and regulations?  

I have personally had many discussions with colleagues, friends, and family who have no idea that private e-scooters are technically illegally in the UK. It’s not that long ago that they were up there on the ‘Christmas list’ of many children in the UK. The fact that most scooters have been seen as a child’s toy previously makes this new mode understandably attractive to younger audiences. Personally, I feel that there has been a lack of awareness and campaigning to highlight the rules around both private and rental scooters. I certainly wasn’t aware that they were almost unusable when my daughter pestered me for one a few years back. I just chose not to buy her one as I was concerned about the safety aspects of a young child on a motorised device.  

My experience is that many people simply aren’t aware of the stringent rules currently around use. This includes hire or rental scooters where you need to use your driver's licence to ride. If you do use the scooter in an illegal or anti-social way the police can enforce or trace it back and you can be fined and even lose your licence depending on the offence. There have been instances of people ‘losing’ their licences after being drunk in charge on an e-scooter and cases where parents have ‘lent their licences’ to their child. Where this has led to an accident the parents are liable, not the operators, as they have acted in a fraudulent manner and invalidated their hire agreement and relevant insurance. This then leads to a complicated and messy civil case.  

In addition, there are currently no rules or regulations in place for the purchase of e-scooters, meaning that anyone can technically purchase one. There is a directive from the Government to retailers stating that they need to highlight the rules when selling them. However, it’s fair to say that quite often you must search for this notification, and it is not always a prominent feature. I have also heard reports of mystery shopping by enforcement agencies where they’ve been told ‘don’t worry no one enforces the rules anyway….’.  

It appears that people are becoming more aware of restrictions around e-scooters but generally only after highly publicised news campaigns or incidents. Sadly, last year a lady lost her life after being hit by a 14-year-old boy riding a private e-scooter in Rainworth, Nottinghamshire. It was reported that the boy had been illegally riding on the pavement when he collided with Mrs Davis. He had only owned the scooter a few days and had little experience of how to safely ride one. What is interesting is the family's response. They are understandably horrified by the incident are still coming to terms with their loss, and they want to ensure this tragedy does not happen again. But rather than calling for an all-out ban on e-scooters, Mrs Davis’ daughter wishes to make people aware of the laws related to e-scooter use and the harm they can cause if ridden in an illegal, dangerous or anti-social manner.  


So if the rules are unenforceable then what is the point? Do we really need stringent rules for e-scooters? Do we just need to be clearer on what the rules are? 

These are all very relevant questions and if you ask around, you’ll get a very mixed view from ‘ban them outright’ to ‘they shouldn’t be regulated and should be treated in the same way as a bike’.  

A key concern with e-scooters is speed, trials schemes are limited to a maximum of 15.5mph and users must have a driver's licence or provisional meaning they have some level of ‘road craft’ knowledge.  

Yet the private market is currently a ‘free-for-all’. With private scooters capable of speeds of up to 30mph and some exceeding this figure. As there are no accepted technical specifications for private e-scooters it means that you can have scooters capable of 30mph with poor quality brakes, small wheels, and less stability than hire scooters. A quick search on Alibaba, highlights this issue, scooters from $99 that can do 31kmph just over 19 mph with tiny 8.5inch wheels. Or if I upgrade to $296, I can get one that does 60mph! I mean, can you imagine doing 60mph on an e-scooter? What level of braking system, safety equipment, and stopping distances do you need?  

My colleague and I recently trialled the Neuron e-scooters in Newcastle and as first-time riders we only got close to the top speed, and I can assure you that seemed rather quick in a city centre whilst trying to navigate a poor road and cycle lane infrastructure with very busy traffic systems.  

Now I am sure it won't have escaped your attention that potholes are the UK’s latest nuisance with reports in the media and even a ‘Mr. Pothole’ who is the new face of campaigning to resolve them across the UK. Now you may be thinking why on earth is she talking about potholes… but there is a link. For even the sturdiest of e-scooters within trial areas potholes are a significant danger. Head injuries linked to potholes and e-scooter use are a key concern. If you were to hit a pothole at a maximum of 15.5mph it could lead to a significant injury. But you hit a pothole at 30 or 60mph on a private e-scooter then I don’t even want to attempt to consider your survival rate.  


So why are ED-GE interested in e-scooters?  

At Edge Innovation we have been working on an e-scooter safety project with industry experts Micro Mobility Partners to design innovative approaches to solve safety-related issues associated with e-scooter use. We believe that e-scooters can be part of the future transport offer within the local transport strategies. However, we are also aware that things need to change to make that happen in a safe manner. Whilst I won't detail our findings to date as I would really appreciate more opinions and thoughts (we have a handy survey where you can share your thoughts).   

The research work we are undertaking is funded by the UK government, administered by UKRI, to investigate how e-scooters can be made safer overall. This involves working with a range of organisations including commissioners such as Local Authorities, e-scooter operators, road safety groups and users.  

The main safety issues that we are investigating includes tandem riding (more than one person riding an e-scooter at one time), inaccurate geofencing which impacts pavement riding, speed restrictions and signalling concerns. The potential beneficiaries of this project include e-scooter users, pedestrians, Local Authorities, operators, and government. The aim is to reduce pedestrians’ fear of e-scooters, reduce anti-social riding, make rider behaviours more predictable to drivers and give users more confidence to use e-scooters.   

In discussions so far it is clear that rider behaviour and public perception of scooters are hugely crucial elements. Therefore, working to really understand how people interact with existing e-scooter trials, whether they are regular users or not and why not. In doing so we hope to be able to bring forward some new solutions to increase safety for all whilst identifying ways to influence future e-scooter designs to improve safety, allowing more widespread understanding and adoption.

We are looking for your input on the use of e-scooters and are inviting you to fill out a quick survey to voice your concerns or opinions on potential safety solutions.  You can complete the survey here: 


Thank you for reading, Susan! 


We have been working with industry experts MicroMobility Partners on a new project to design innovative approaches to solve safety-related issues associated with e-scooter use. We are looking for your input on the use of e-scooters and are inviting you to fill out a quick survey to voice your concerns or opinions on potential safety solutions.  

E-scooter trials were launched in July 2020 in 32 areas across England by the Department for Transport. The trials allow users to rent e-scooters and are currently the only legal way to ride an e-scooter on the public highway. 

The trials intend to measure demand for e-scooters and to help inform technical regulations and safety measures for the potential legalisation of private e-scooters. The trials will run until May 2024 and have already highlighted several safety challenges including road infrastructure, helmet usage and rider visibility. The trials are proving e-scooters as a valuable mode of transport with over 14.5 million trips undertaken by December 2021. They offer new transportation options with higher uptake by people of low incomes and ethnic minorities whilst providing an alternative to the private car and are being used on regular trips including commuting. 

The evaluation also showed a higher rate of accidents, compared to equivalent bike usage, which may be linked to the novice use of e-scooters. In the year ending June 2021, there were 931 accidents involving e-scooters (including private e-scooter usage). Whilst many of these did not lead to injury, around 250 were considered serious. As a result, Edge Innovation and MicroMobility partners are being funded by the UK government, administered by UKRI, to investigate how e-scooters can be made safer overall. This involves working with a range of organisations including commissioners such as Local Authorities, e-scooter operators, road safety groups and users. To gain insight from stakeholders the team are asking for responses to an e-scooter safety survey. The survey can be accessed by clicking this link: 

Steve Pyer, Director at MicroMobility Partners, said: "e-scooters are a new mode of transport in the UK and legislation is still being debated. With the correct legislation, technology and education they are an enjoyable and emission free way to move around urban areas. The MicroMobility Partners team have over 30 years of combined experience in micro mobility and have been at the forefront of safe sustainable e-scooter operations for over two years. Our involvement will produce clear requirements that can be built into trials, hardware, operations and legislation". 

The main safety issues that will be addressed include low levels of helmet use, more than one person riding an e-scooter at one time, inaccurate geofencing which impacts pavement riding, speed restrictions and problems with signalling. The potential beneficiaries of this project include e-scooter users, pedestrians, Local Authorities, operators, and government. The aim is to reduce pedestrians’ fear of e-scooters, reduce anti-social riding, make rider behaviours more predictable to drivers and give users more confidence to use e-scooters.  

Simon Green, Chief Executive of Edge Innovation, described the work being undertaken through this project. “When we began talking with MicroMobility Partners about e-scooter safety, it became clear that rider behaviour and public perception of scooters were hugely crucial elements. With this in mind, we are focusing this work on really understanding how people interact with existing e-scooter trials, whether they are regular users or not. This way, we will identify ways to influence future trial designs to improve safety, allowing more widespread acceptance and adoption.” 

Edge and MicroMobility Partners are currently working with the operators, commissioners, and users to understand the challenges arising in the trials. This will then lead to consideration of the appropriate response and solutions to overcome these challenges. 

All survey responses are greatly appreciated, thank you:

mel scoote 3

The project team includes design and project management expertise from Edge Innovation, mobility expertise from MicroMobility Partners, and design engineering expertise from Samson Forth Associates. This project is funded by the UK government and administered by UKRI. 

Edge Innovation was set up in 2015 to support innovation with and across public, private, and third sectors, working with organisations of all sizes across different sectors. 

Website:Edge Innovation - We enable people to realise positive change. (  


MicroMobility Partners are a team of active travel and micro mobility veterans with over 30 years of experience in the industry, from Boris Bikes to British Cycling and Ford-owned Spin mobility. 



Innovate UK fund business and research collaboration to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into R&D. Their support is available to businesses across all economic sectors value chains and UK regions.​ Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation. ​For more information visit 

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The Tees Valley Business Volunteering Challenge came about through a recognition that volunteering has changed post-pandemic and that more could be done to connect large commercial organisations with Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSEs) in the Tees Valley. The challenge was supported by the Tees Valley Combined Authority and funded by the Government Community Renewal Fund. It sought to develop innovative approaches to volunteering, Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to bring real benefit to both sectors by harnessing the skills and assets within large organisations to support the development of the VCSE sector in the Tees Valley.

The challenge brought together a variety of diverse VCSE organisations and private corporations to utilise the expertise found in large businesses to advance the VCSE sector in the Tees Valley and create innovative collaborations and connections. The organisations involved are highlighted in the picture below.


The challenge identified large organisations as challenge holders, VCSE organisations as solution developers, and EDGE created the connections and support package for the development of future products and services.

volunteering challenge

The volunteering challenge provided VCSE organisations with business support and grant assistance so they could co-create with large organisations to review ways of building a framework of engagement and formalised structured process(es) to link the sectors and develop ongoing long-term working arrangements.

Using design-led thinking EDGE created a bespoke programme of support for the VCSE organisations through a series of five co-creation workshops and capacity-building sessions.

The first two workshops focus on the VCSE organisations. Workshop one considered and analysed what their needs and current realities were, and what they wanted their future realities to be. The second workshop focused on their ambitions and understanding the anchors and challenges that were holding them back from achieving their preferred future realities. The anchors identified included:







Once the anchors were identified, the private sector partners were invited into the third workshop to understand the perspectives of the VCSE organisations, alongside the challenge holders, to help identify future solutions. The potential solutions identified were:





To support the development of these solutions the fourth and fifth workshops considered the structures required and the delivery mechanisms. All partners agreed that the developments should happen at a sub-regional Tees Valley level where they can cross-collaborate and build on the existing networks and partnerships in place. That a streamlined consortium should be created to move forward the concepts in a simplified lean approach without the need for bureaucratic structures. An aim for the consortium was agreed upon:

We want to create a locally owned infrastructure to develop strategic collaboration. We will create online and physical spaces where VCSEs, Local Authorities, funders and the private sector can access and share funding, skills, knowledge and impact measurement needs for effective strategic collaboration. We are aiming at developing an inclusive, reputable and unified knowledge base.

The cross-sector consortium would be developed building on the partnerships created through this programme, led by Redcar and Cleveland Voluntary Development Agency.

volunteering challenge 2

A roadmap for development was created and is highlighted below:

volunteering challenge 3


The challenge has contributed to closing the gap identified between the VCSEs and private sector organisations through improved networking and the development of stronger leads. The workshops encouraged the VCSEs to identify their realities and provided them with structures to aid the creation and maintenance of connections with the private sector. The VCSE and private sector perspectives allowed for the identification of three main solutions a) an online platform, b) strategic cross-sector collaborations, and c) improving networking and connections. This has in turn led to the designing of a plan of action and road map to attain the key milestones required to deliver the new innovative solutions.

Challenge next steps

We want to make it easier for small to medium-sized organisations from the Tees Valley to become design alert and for the VCSEs involved in the volunteering challenge to create new products and services based on the solutions identified in the volunteering challenge.  Our next steps involve developing a programme for an online platform through the Design for Growth programme. EDGE acknowledge that large businesses predominantly have larger budgets to invest in design, training, and expert facilitation, and this is not the case for smaller and VCSE organisations. Therefore, the Design for Growth programme is available to small to medium organisations from the Tees Valley for FREE.

You can read more about the programme and find out how you can get involved by clicking through the sections below:

Your time is appreciated, thank you for reading.

Sophie Hoyle




How can design thinking be applied in small and medium sized organisations to add perspective, inspire creative ideas and lead to innovative solutions?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a practice which combines empathy, creativity, and rationality to guide the creation of innovative solutions to real world problems. By championing a people-centred approach, design thinking aims to uncover unspoken human needs and connect this with what is feasible. As a process, this can be seen through the Design Councils double diamond framework which contains four key stages:

Discover - research and empathise to identify user needs and opportunities.

Define - interpret findings and narrow down on the challenges to address.

Develop - generate, iterate, and evaluate ideas.

Deliver - prototype, test assumptions, and refine solutions.

In reality this is not a linear process. It requires constant diverging (creating choices) and converging (making choices), and a willingness to re-evaluate what you know at every stage. At Edge, this process is a common thread through our work as a means of helping organisations to challenge the status quo.

Is design not just for creatives?

As a 2020 graduate of Northumbria Universities Design for Industry course, I have often heard it said that design is only for people who see themselves as creative. Since working at Edge, I have had the opportunity to disprove this assumption and the pleasure of seeing the positive impact design thinking can have on organisations when the right people are involved.

My colleague and I recently had the opportunity to further disprove this through our Design for Growth seminar at the Grow Tees Valley business conference. In attendance, were a range of ages, backgrounds, and disciplines, from college students to managing directors. The participants were mostly unfamiliar with design thinking tools and processes before the session.

In teams of up to ten, we gave each group a simple paper coffee filter and presented them with the following challenge: This is not a coffee filter. What is it?

 Starting with their coffee filter and a choice of who to design for, each group went through the process of empathising with their target user, defining what their users’ challenges are, creating ideas of how they could overcome the challenges and finally using the coffee filter to prototype their solution.

The groups created a variety of solutions including a folding fidget device to help tackle social anxiety with conversational prompts, and environmentally friendly disposable sleeve covers to stop children from wiping their food all over their clothes.

Granted, processes like this can often feel alien at first, but if these groups can produce such great and varied solutions with a coffee filter, two activities, and less than 40 minutes, what is stopping you?

What is the value of design thinking?

 Design thinking is proven to improve customer experience, increase revenue growth, accelerate time to market and drive social change. Of course, that does not mean every design process will lead to success, by nature all innovation processes are risky and uncertain. However, by encouraging quick, cheap, and smart failures, design thinking can also help to reduce this risk.

In the 5 months that I have worked at Edge I have already started to witness the impact design thinking can have on organisations. From small business re-imagining their concept in a way that better suits their users and investor needs, to cross-sector organisations co-designing a framework future collaboration, the feedback has carried a consistent message: the process helps people to view a problem from a new perspective.

In my opinion the potential to better imagine the perspective of another person is huge, and that is what makes my work so exciting.

Where does people meet process?

 It can sometimes seem contradictory talking about innovation while also talking about a structured process. After all, how can the act of creating something entirely new rely on a process which already exists?

The answer is that as much as we talk about processes and tools, design thinking relies on flexibility to adapt the plan based on the circumstance. The value of tools and processes used lies in the mindsets behind them. Seeking new perspectives and ideas, aiming to understand a challenge as fully as possible before trying to solve it and taking action so that fear of failure does not prevent progress.

That said the tools and processes are especially useful when this way of working is unfamiliar. New ways of working require behavioural change, which can be difficult without structure. Tools such as ‘personas’, ‘value proposition canvases’ and ‘journey maps’ are great for making ambiguous processes more tangible and providing guidance to ensure the human needs are considered in detail.

Design for Growth…

 At Edge, we believe that supporting organisations to incorporate design-led thinking tools and processes into their businesses will create a positive impact and growth within the Tees Valley. However, we also acknowledge that while large businesses often have large budgets to invest in design, training, and expert facilitation, this is not the case for smaller organisations.

As part of the Grow Tees Valley programme, Teesside University has commissioned Edge Innovation to deliver design thinking support to local businesses. Design for Growth is focused on the development of design thinking knowledge and the application of specific tools and mindsets to develop innovative solutions, products and services.

From November 2022 to March 2023, selected small to medium sized organisations from the Tees Valley will be able to participate in a series of workshops and business support activities to shape their future products or services.

The support activities, delivered by Edge, will consist of:

The programme is free to join and will include a minimum of 12 hours support delivered by Edge.

Want to know more?

For more details on the Design for Growth programme, please check out our website:

Design for Growth

Thanks for reading,


Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.


In times of uncertainty, can businesses and the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector work together to make meaningful change and support communities?

In spring this year, we launched the Tees Valley Business Volunteering Challenge with the aim of connecting large commercial organisations with voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) to develop innovative opportunities for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to improve volunteering, engagement and VCSE development. Throughout the innovative Tees Valley Business Challenge programme, funded by Government Community Renewal funds, we worked with large and small businesses to create new challenge-led innovations using people-centred design. This work ventured into the areas of fuel poverty and affordable warmth, creating new ways of supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing, reducing anxiety in hospitals through product redesign, transformational digital efficiencies, and decarbonising manufacturing.

What has the challenge led to so far?

The programme aimed to strengthen innovation maturity, build resilience for post covid recovery and unlock growth potential within the Tees Valley area. It will take time to understand the true value and impact that the programme has delivered considering the scope of ambition and the 6-9 month timeline allocated to these aims. What I can say is that I have had the pleasure of working with a number of large organisations including St John Ambulance, National Energy Action, Accenture, Newcastle Building Society and Womble Bond Dickinson to name just a few. I have also worked with small and medium sized organisations from sole traders to more established businesses who are at the forefront of new product and service development that are agile, responsive, eager to collaborate and respond to large organisations’ challenges. One particular business described the Tees Valley Business Challenge programme as having ‘catapulted’ their business forward and has paved the way for turning their ideas into reality.

What has also been apparent is that all of these organisations are dedicated to continually improving what they do, reviewing their ways of working and are open to finding new collaborations to make things happen. All are focussed on ‘people’ be that their teams, individuals, or the communities and organisations within which they work. This links very heavily to our focus at Edge of putting people at the heart of design and innovation. If we focus on real people and their needs we can support the design of products and services that meet those requirements and make a difference and in business terms, increasing profitability, productivity, sustainability and value. This all seems a little obvious however it is surprising how often the focus shifts from the people to the product or service , which can soon become irrelevant in our fast moving world.

How does this relate to the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector?

In the volunteering challenge we engaged 8 VCSE organisations of various shapes and sizes from the Tees Valley area: larger infrastructure organisations who support other smaller community groups, charities focussed on supporting young people in care, and individuals recovering from addiction to another enterprise offering cultural activities and sustainability opportunities in the area. The programme offered small grants to the VCSE organisations to fully engage within the challenge. We created a bespoke offering, working to review their needs, considering how they currently operate, how they would like to operate in the future and to contemplate the ‘anchors’ or ‘barriers’ that may be holding them back from achieving their preferred future realities.

This intensive but rewarding schedule led to an overload of post it notes, Miro boards and the Edge team resolutely collating the information and validating the key areas which are potentially slowing down progress for the VCSE’s moving forward. These include:

The majority of these areas will take significant work to change and adapt, so can we actually make a difference? Without wanting to sound like a social media gif or meme, a wise man (Nelson Mandela) once said:

“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make the difference”

So who am I to argue? But in all honesty, I truly believe that we can affect change. Sometimes it is by one small action, one good deed, a chance connection or a friendly smile, but we never really understand the impact that our behaviour and actions can have on others. This is one of the issues highlighted, how can we effectively evidence the social value and impact of the sector when the sectors impact is so wide, varied and yet so individual? Social change requires fundamental policy shift, political will, investment, time and the right people to make a difference.

I have worked and volunteered in the VCSE sector for over half of my life time and I can honestly say that I have seen a difference being made first hand, which is why I am so passionate about the sector. Sometimes this has been through that chance connection, meeting the right person, being in the right place at the right time, and other times it has taken years of persistence, perseverance and resilience to get that breakthrough. For me, the biggest impact happens when we work together, collaborate and focus on the things that we can do rather than the things we can’t.

The dynamic group of VCSE’s, that I have had the pleasure of working with over the last few months, already make a difference in communities across the Tees Valley and will further make a difference through the connections they are fostering with some of the largest businesses in the North East and beyond. They are working together to consider how many of the barriers, obstacles and anchors can be removed and turned into opportunities. This will no doubt create change, social impact, and value in our communities and to individuals across the area. This will come in many different forms, from supporting food supply to those most in need, warm safe places to go in the deepest of winter and in the longer term transformational changes that I hope make some of these current services superfluous. In times of turbulence, change and adversity we need to be positive, work together, create opportunities, be focussed on making a difference and in doing so overcome adversity and achieve a better future together.

What are the next steps if you want to know more?

See how things are progressing and find out more by joining our online session where the findings of the Tees Valley Volunteering Challenge will be presented. Hear from us, the voluntary sector organisations and the large businesses who have been engaged in the process on the outcomes to date, and the next steps for the programme to create new ways of working for the future.
On Friday 30th September at 10am online, click here to register Volunteering challenge findings presentation.

For more details of the Tees Valley Business Challenge, please check out our website.

Thanks for reading, Susan.

Through our work with the Grow Tees Valley project, we are able to offer free exhibition space to 15 small and medium-sized Tees Valley businesses at the Grow Tees Valley Conference. The Conference is at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Thursday 13th October. Over 200 businesses, investors and support organisations will be there on the day, so it creates a great opportunity to promote your products and services to a wide audience.

We are aware that the pandemic has made it difficult for small businesses to launch new products and services, so this is the focus of our support. We are working with marketing and events specialists Horizon Works Marketing to provide:

The workshops and exhibition space are being provided as a free support package to relevant small businesses, so we're looking for businesses that:

To express interest in getting involved, submit details of your company (name, location, sector and contact details) by email to by 31st August 2022.

Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

The high-profile Tees Valley Business Summit saw the launch of new products and services by seven local small businesses, with support from Teesside University’s Grow Tees Valley project and Edge Innovation. Having not been able to launch their ideas during the pandemic, the project provided help and funding to promote them to an audience of over 750 people from the local business community.

The products launched ranged across digital learning tools, new ways of engaging customers, a novel cooking solution and more energy efficient buildings. Together, the small businesses had spent time preparing their launches and helping each other get ready to exhibit for the first time. As a group the seven demonstrate both the breadth of business activity in the Tees Valley and the ambition shown to grow successful organisations in the area. Success with their new products is expected to lead to significant new employment opportunities and sales growth.

Dr Suhail Aslam, Grow Tees Valley Programme manager at Teesside University welcomed the launch. “Grow Tees Valley is about helping local businesses to overcome challenges and grow. The growth of local businesses is crucial to drive forward the Tees Valley economy and achieve our shared ambitions for the area. It was so exciting to see such great ideas, from local small businesses, coming through to market launch and to be able to help them on their way. I can’t wait to see what happens next for them.”

The seven businesses were from across the Tees Valley, with innovative Redcar-based architecture and design firm The Sustainable Design Studio one of those involved. Stuart Duckett from the firm described why they had taken part. “As a small business, we can’t generally afford to exhibit at large scale events like the Business Summit. In any case, it can be difficult to find the time to prepare for such events. The Grow Tees Valley support has given us a great opportunity to share our novel ideas around sustainable development and energy efficiency with a wide audience. We picked up lots of new contacts on the day and we’re now working on how to turn these into new business, helping with our growth plans.”

The seven businesses involved were Samson Forth, YLearn and RJB Enriched Design from Darlington, SeerBI from Middlesbrough, OGEL World from Stockton-on-Tees and The Sustainable Design Studio and Festival of Thrift from Redcar. Marketing and events specialists from Horizon Works worked with the businesses to prepare them for the day.

Grow Tees Valley is a part-funded service available to growth-oriented Tees Valley businesses employing fewer than 250 staff with an annual turnover no greater than €50m per annum. The Grow Tees Valley project is receiving up to £3.238m of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.

Can Environmental Social Governance (ESG) or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) really have an impact on the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector? Our lead for social enterprise projects, Susan Ross, talks about the Volunteering Challenge she's involved with.

As a VCSE advocate for over 20 years, having worked within the sector and volunteering in a range of guises including as a trustee for a community foodbank, palliative care charity, a voluntary director of a health and wellbeing CIC (Community Interest Company), and a chair of my local community association improving my own community. I guess you can say I’m often at the ‘coal face’ (yes I’m northern and no pun intended) of volunteering and community regeneration.  I also spend part of my professional life advising VCSE organisations, developing social enterprise and recruiting volunteers to take on a range of tasks including drivers for a community run electric vehicle car club.

Challenge in the Tees Valley….

Back in January 2022 I took on a new challenge as a ‘Social Enterprise Lead’ at ED/GE Innovation, working in the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme.  A new and innovative challenge approach in the North East, focussed on the Tees Valley area, using Governmental Community Renewal Fund monies to deliver solutions, to complex issues across a wide range of sectors which all small and medium enterprises (SME’s) within the Tees Valley can respond to, known as the Tees Valley Business Challenge – TVBC.

It really is a challenge – to deliver a new type of innovation programme and develop new products and services, linking large businesses and SME’s within 6 months! For those of you reading this and work within the VCSE or funded organisations I can hear you shouting about the ridiculous timescales and short lived nature of such a programme. However, as a precursor to the long anticipated Government Shared Prosperity Fund it has been a unique way of working without the usual prescriptive nature which often precludes real innovation.

So far in the challenge I have worked with 8 businesses directly and networked with a further 9 through the various business support sessions, created and delivered through the programme. It has been really insightful seeing first-hand innovations across some pretty large and meaty issues including fuel poverty and decarbonisation of homes, improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and now a new challenge - volunteering. Supporting the VCSE to develop and increase capacity by connecting large corporates with VCSE organisations to co-create new and exciting frameworks and ways of working to make ESG/ CSR more impactful.

What even is ESG/ CSR?

Environmental, Social Governance is effectively the new Corporate Social Responsibility. It is a holistic way of doing business and now it is a legal requirement in the UK for companies with over 500 employees as of April 2022. It is how companies assess their impact on the world and how they measure and mitigate. Taking into account environmental factors such as carbon emissions, pollution, waste, energy efficiency and travel. Governance of the organisation to ensure that it abides by the highest standards of ethics, taxation, financial accounting, whilst encouraging whistle-blowers and deterring bribery and corruption. Socially it considers inclusive and diverse workforces, safety and advancement opportunities, community and charitable work. It should also work through supply chains and consider the impact through the entire value chain to the customers and end consumers.  Although legally it only currently affects large corporates it is effectively good practice for all organisations to consider measures to reduce an organisation’s negative impact and promote a vision for social and environmental advancement.

Is there an issue with ESG volunteering, can we make it more meaningful?

Think of the workplace volunteering you may have been involved in? I know personally that it often involves being allowed a couple of days a year away from the day job to give something back. But are we really giving enough? Is having some very highly paid and skilled executives painting a wall or digging a path, doing a litter pick really making a difference to our communities? Is it making a difference to their organisations? Are we effectively paying ‘lip service’ or simply enacting random acts of kindness?  Yes, it can be novel getting away from the day job for a few days (if you can spare the time and the mounting inbox of emails while you’re away) and from a team building point of view some socialising away from the water butt or kettle is a pleasure but does it support the local community? Is there a better way? Surely utilising the skills in marketing, sales, business planning, accountancy, HR, digitisation could be used much better in community organisations who would really value that support?

Alternative options?

Multinationals are already thinking differently about how they can give back to their communities and VCSE in different ways including eBay UK where they have an eBay for Change where social enterprises can trade with zero fees, they can also access business support to improve their offer, scale and develop new opportunities. Through the Tees Valley Business Challenge Programme I have had the opportunity to speak to a cornucopia of people from the corporate and VCSE world who would like to see another way. From the Managing Director of a multibillion pound organisation who would like to make new connections locally with new organisations and create new networks. To the VCSE advisor who would like to see longer-term fundamental engagement where new trustees come forward to the social enterprise Chief Executive who would like to see disruption to this way of working and more transformative ways created, maybe there is…

We have created the new Tees Valley Business Challenge Volunteering Programme where we are looking for challenge holders (large corporate organisations) and VCSE’s to come forward to work together to develop new ways of working. Proactively through a range of business support and design led workshops to create a toolbox, toolkit, or framework that will allow new ways to engage that will bring more fundamental benefits to both organisations and long-term working arrangements.

But what’s the benefit to the corporate sector? Isn’t it just another box ticking exercise for my ESG framework….

Sadly, the VCSE is often seen as the poor relation, possibly because we are always trying to find money to keep services going and having to complete for ever decreasing pots of funding.  However, the VCSE sector has an abundance of expertise, collaborative ways of working, methods of engaging with people directly and understanding from a ground-up approach. The sector is like no other, the passion, innovation, excitement and commitment is in my opinion unparalleled. They strive to continually improve the ways in which they work and also to improve outcomes for our communities.  Not to mention the feel good factor when you can see the difference you are making directly to peoples lives. By engaging with the VCSE and working within VCSE organisations it can bring a new perspective, understanding, emotional intelligence and can broaden your skills set. It can assist aspiring leaders to work in different organisations whilst giving something back and using skills to help them grow and in doing so become more sustainable and do more great things.

The benefits of working together can bring real value for both sectors, creating new networks, suppliers, where communities can thrive.

Will it work? What if we can’t create the cross-sector systems to create meaningful change?

Who knows after all this is the point of the TVBC programme to trial new ways of working, experiment and innovate. In the words of a well know drinks brand ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ In my humble opinion the worst that can happen is that we connect a range of organisations cross sector and in doing so we start new partnerships. That in my book, is a win! Thanks for reading, Susan.

Want to know more?

For more details of the Tees Valley Business Challenge please check out the website:

TVCA Business Challenges - Edge Innovation (

My name is Ryan Siddall and I am an Innovation Manager working for NEPIC and the Innovation SuperNetwork. On a daily basis I work very closely with large and small companies across the North East and I’m continually inspired by the sheer scale of manufacturing, academic and innovation expertise that is housed in the region.

My undergraduate degree in chemistry from Newcastle University has provided me with a sound technical understanding of chemical processes that are carried out on Teesside, but since joining NEPIC, I’ve developed an appreciation of the impact that innovation, continuous improvement and collaboration has on the chemical, process and pharmaceutical industries. The success of the region relies on knowledge sharing between large and small companies; SMEs are small and agile enough to develop innovative techniques and processes to make a huge impact on the manufacturing sector, and larger companies have the infrastructure and financial clout to accelerate these innovations to commercialisation. Organisations like ed/ge, NEPIC and the Innovation SuperNetwork are essential in allowing SMEs and large companies to network, share best practice and ultimately collaborate for the benefit of the sector and region.

The Tees Valley Business Challenge is a great initiative designed to bring larger and smaller companies together to tackle an industrial problem. NEPIC are supporting Procter and Gamble’s Newcastle Innovation Centre to take the first steps on their sustainability journey. The centre has recently installed an efficient gas-powered steam generator which is used to power the site, and this releases a fair amount of Carbon Dioxide. The aim of this challenge is to seek innovative engineering solutions from SMEs to help reduce the level of CO2 emitted from the generator. It is hoped that an engineering company from the Tees Valley can come up with an ‘outside of the box’ approach to emission reduction.

Traditional carbon capture technologies require significant footprint and capital investment, making them unsuitable and inaccessible for smaller companies and sites such as R&D facilities, offices, hotels etc. P&G are looking for engineers to design a simple unit, utilising simple technology, which can be ‘bolted’ on to the existing generator to reduce some of the CO­emissions. Successful challenge solvers will be given the opportunity to work with P&G at their pilot plant to be able to test their designs in a manufacturing environment.

Further details are listed below about the challenges and how to apply.

Five challenges were launched on the 17th and 18th of February, the webinar recordings for each events are available on the website. You can also find them individually below:-

To get involved in this programme, organisations, businesses, and charities will need to register their interest for at least one of the five strands mentioned above and have a registered office or trading address in one of the five Tees Valley Authorities (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland or Stockton-on-Tees)

A small business can participate in more than one strand and find further details about the challenges and our FAQ on Edge website:

Small and medium business including charities have until the 7th March to submit their expression of interest form via the Edge Innovation website here

The key dates for the programme are highlighted below:-

This is an exciting opportunity for innovative small businesses that can develop a solution to help P&G start their sustainability journey.

The small businesses that are involved will be given a £5k grant to develop a ‘prototype’ solution with the opportunity for five of the businesses being apply to apply for an additional £45k grant to further develop their concept.