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Industry News

Join the devolution debate

Businesses are being encouraged to have their say in the debate about the devolution of power, funding and responsibilities to the North East. The North East Combined Authority and the think tank IPPR North are seeking views to inform discussions.

The North East Combined Authority (NECA) has outlined initial proposals to secure a significant programme of devolution to the North East, to meet the needs of communities, and deliver the North East’s strategic economic plan for more and better jobs.

The government has invited proposals from areas across the country and has already agreed deals with Greater Manchester and Sheffield City Region combined authorities. NECA’s initial proposal for devolution to the North East will be the starting point for discussions with government ministers in the coming weeks and months.

The North East Combined Authority Leadership Board is keen to engage with partners and stakeholders in further developing and influencing the proposals. Business leaders, residents and partner agencies across the North East are invited to attend one of a series of events which will take place across the NECA area to discuss and develop the key issues in more detail – a list of the dates and venues currently confirmed can be found on the website

If you are unable to attend any of the events you can still send your views on the proposals by completing the feedback form available online. The deadline for responses is Friday 27 March.

The think tank IPPR North is also carrying out research on the current state of business attitudes to devolution in the North of England and reasons underpinning it. They want to find out what businesses think of the prospect of more devolution; where they see the opportunities and risks in allowing local regions greater power over their own affairs; and what they make of the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

IPPR North’s research will be read by national and local policy-makers and provides an opportunity for businesses operating in the North to contribute to this ongoing and important debate. There are two things that you can do to take part:

  1. You are invited to attend an event on Thursday 26 March at 8.30am in central Manchester; or on Wednesday 1 April at 8.30am in central Newcastle. If you would like to attend please contact Jack Hunter (; 0161 4570539).
  2. There is an online survey to collect business attitudes to devolution. The survey is accessible here and will be live until Monday 13 April.

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New investment for Newcastle

Ubisoft, a leading creator and distributor of video games, last week announced the official opening of its new Consumer Relationship Centre (CRC) in Newcastle, an investment secured following support from Newcastle City Council and our inward investment team.

The CRC is a hub for Ubisoft’s interactions with players in Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA) territories, integrating consumer support teams and community managers. Ubisoft plans to expand the CRC to include more than 100 team members by the end of 2015, with the ambition to continue that growth to 200 team members and beyond in the coming years.

“Opening the Consumer Relationship Centre is a key step in better knowing our players and providing them with comprehensive service and support,” explains Stéphane Catherine, EMEA Consumer Relationship Director. “Ubisoft is embracing the ‘games as a service’ model, and having both the community managers and support teams working together to keep our communities continuously engaged and happy with their favourite brands and games is the goal.”

The CRC currently employs 75 team members, with plans to expand the centre to more than 100 by the end of 2015. Consumer Support and Community Management teams at the CRC are operational seven days a week to respond to consumer queries and engage with communities via phone, e-mail, forums and other channels in 11 languages.

The CRC also represents Ubisoft’s continued investment in supporting the video game industry in the UK. Ubisoft is ranked 3rd independent video game publisher in the UK video game market. Newcastle is also home to Ubisoft’s Reflections studio, and Ubisoft employs almost 400 people in the UK between its business team in Guildford, the Reflections and Future Games of London studios, and now the CRC.

The choice of location is also recognition of Newcastle’s ability to attract, train and retain talent from the video game and technology industries.

Ed Vaizey, UK Minister for the Digital Economy said: “This is tremendous news for Newcastle and the UK and Ubisoft’s long-term plans are testament to the wealth of talent in the North East in particular. Government and industry are working together to make the UK the best place in the world for video game production, and this investment provides a welcome boost in realizing this ambition."

Our inward investment team, which delivers inward investment activity on behalf of Newcastle City Council, supported Ubisoft before and during the CRC creation with strategic and practical help, including, helping to form the Newcastle bid, staff relocation and coordination with the Regional Growth Fund through the Let’s Grow programme.

“This is a hugely significant step in realising our ambition to make Newcastle a world-class center for the gaming industry. We are delighted that Ubisoft have recognized the advantages of investing in our city, helping reaffirm Newcastle’s position as one of the fastest growing tech centers outside London. This is a great city to do business and I know Ubisoft will make a big contribution to our economic growth by creating the jobs of the future” said Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council.

“I was very pleased to meet senior representatives from Ubisoft to make the case for Newcastle whilst they were considering where to locate. We fought off stiff competition from other cities across the UK and overseas to secure this significant investment for Newcastle, including a package of support provided by our dedicated inward investment team at NewcastleGateshead Initiative.”

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New Castle unveiled

Newcastle’s original landmark attraction, Newcastle Castle, re-opens to the public this Saturday (21 March). With new interpretation and exhibitions, following a £1.67m refurbishment of both the Black Gate and Castle Keep, visitors will be able to delve further than ever before into the city's colourful and rich history.

Kate Sussams, project manager at the Old Newcastle Project, said: “The journey we have undertaken over the last two years has been truly fascinating and a real time-hop. The stories we’ve uncovered have made us smile and wince in equal measure. Highlights include prisoners being hung, drawn and quartered, stories of rogue sheriffs, tales from the Civil War and even a local merchant’s attempt to make a donkey fly from the top of the Castle Keep! There are so many interesting stories of the people who lived and worked in the Castle buildings and in the surrounding Castle Garth.”

“We’re delighted we can now open our doors to the public once again, and to do so during English Tourism Week could not be more fitting! Newcastle Castle, is after all, the city’s original visitor attraction!”

The Castle Keep – a Scheduled Ancient Monument – has long been an iconic symbol of the region's past, being all that remains of the stone medieval stronghold built in the 1170s by Henry II. Thanks to the refurbishment, the cellar, formerly the county prison, and upper-floor Great Hall now boast state-of-the-art audio-visual installations, relaying key events from the city's past.

The same stunning views of the cityscape will be available to view from the rooftop and now those visitors with mobility difficulties can enjoy a virtual tour thanks to a new Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) enabled oak floor, ensuring accessibility for all – despite hundreds of stairs!

The second building to make up Newcastle Castle is the Black Gate, which was the ancient barbican, or 'fortified gateway', for the Castle, built in 1247.

Previously the headquarters for the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, this often overlooked landmark closed to the public for almost two decades. The renovation has seen it fitted with an external lift, clad in wood to merge with the centuries-old architecture, allowing access to three levels of the building, including a new exhibition space, a reception area, gift-shop and toilets.

From the 17th century through until the late 19th, the area between the buildings, the Castle Garth, was rife with slum tenements and taverns of ill-repute. The third floor of the Black Gate will recreate some of the sights and sounds of this infamous area, including revealing exactly why the building is called the Black Gate.

Aided by a £1.4m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the Old Newcastle Project has worked hard to enhance the existing buildings and create a gateway into the city's incredible past.

Ivor Crowther, head of the HLF North East, said: “Inspiring people by supporting the vibrancy and diversity of our cultural heritage is a key aim of the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as increasing access into these amazing buildings for as many people as possible. The renovation of Newcastle Castle is one we are proud to support. The team has transformed the site into an accessible and exciting attraction that animates the many diverse, often gruesome, and truly fascinating stories to have been born here, bringing them to life for visitors and residents for years to come.”

Chris Dalliston, dean of Newcastle and chair of the Heart of the City Partnership which now runs Newcastle Castle, said: “To see new life breathed into Newcastle Castle is truly wonderful. Together with the Cathedral, the Castle buildings form the area known as Old Newcastle – where the story of Newcastle really began. The team at the Old Newcastle project have done a fantastic job of bringing together a range of new features and attractions to help uncover the city’s extremely varied and vibrant past.”

“The project, could not have been achieved however without the help of Heritage Lottery Funding and I’d like to thank them for their support in helping to make the renovation of the Black Gate and the Keep a reality and animating these important city landmarks for future generations to enjoy.”

In Roman times the site of Newcastle Castle was known as Pons Aelius, a fort and settlement. In 1080, the first (timber) castle was built there by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, before the Keep as it is seen today was built in the 1170s. It was so good that Henry II (who commissioned the stone keep) ordered the head stone mason, Maurice, to build an almost exact replica at Dover!

Functioning as a fascinating glimpse into the past, both for Tyneside residents and for visitors from further afield, Newcastle Castle will host a varied series of events throughout the year, including a programme of medieval family fun during the Easter school holidays.

The Black Gate and Castle Keep come together to form Newcastle Castle, with a single ticket (£6.50 for an adult) allowing entry into both sites.

For more information go to:, like on Facebook, or follow on Twitter; @NewcastleCastle.

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