We exist to make rural life better

We work with people and organisations who are passionate about the place they live and work. We help to create new ideas and turn them into solutions.

Rural UK is more diverse than people think at first. It is much more than farming and tourism. Rural economies have untapped potential for innovation and positive change.

Our primary focus is the North East of England, where we are developing and demonstrating new ways of tackling rural issues. Activity at the moment is located in the North of Tyne Combined Authority area, including Northumberland. We are also starting to work in other areas; please contact us if you are interested.

The Centre was developed with support from the North East LEP. Current activity is part-funded by North of Tyne Combined Authority and the European Regional Development Fund (until 2023).

A catalyst for change

The ‘big idea’ is that the RDC will act as a catalyst for change, to stimulate new ideas and action to change things for the better. We work with three main partners:

Innovation Super Network
Advance Northumberland

We use design methods

We work with people, community groups, businesses, research centres and business support organisations. Using design methods to understand what is going on, what people need or want and how to make things better.

We will ask questions and ask people to share what they know. We design collaboratively.

Details on our design methods can be found here

How can we help you?

The Rural Design Centre brings groups together to discover the current problems and opportunities, define solutions and deliver results.

We can offer advice and grants to small and medium businesses including Community Interest Companies.

We are connected to a big network of partner organisations and can support funding applications for feasibility studies as well as larger investment to make things a reality.

We want to hear from residents, community groups, small and medium businesses and solution providers who have an interest in improving rural communities.

How we work (Design Missions)

We’re on a mission, well missions actually!

We work with people, community groups, businesses, research centres and business support organisations to do this work. We use design methods to understand what is going on, what people need or want and how to make things better.

Our work is structured into design missions as we call them. Each mission is either focussed on a particular place (e.g. Haltwhistle) or around a theme (e.g. Housing). We start by striking up a conversation with people about the place they live in.

We host events to explore the theme and create ideas. We then invite expressions of interest from businesses and organisations and support them in applying for grants for feasibility and pilot studies.

So far, we have undertaken missions around the themes of ageing, housing, mobility, de-carbonisation and smart energy.

We are really passionate about this work, we want to hear from people, groups and businesses who would like to work together to make a positive impact in their community.

So if this sounds like something you would like to be involved in, please get in touch.

Rural UK is diverse, different, challenged, underserved and with significant untapped innovation potential. The evidence shows that rural areas often outperform urban on indicators such as employment growth and rates, businesses per head, levels of innovation, and rural firms are more likely to report a profit than their urban counterparts.

Secondly, it can be wrongly assumed that the rural economy is predominantly synonymous with agriculture or land-based activities. The rural economy is much more diverse.

Through 12 months of intensive work with over 40 key institutions, we have developed the concept of the Rural Catalyst and within that the Rural Design Centre.

The Rural Catalyst is an overarching banner, a mission to transform how innovation is supported and encouraged in rural communities. To make a real difference, this mission must include work on policy, advocacy, research and knowledge transfer and we are working closely with the proposed National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise on these activities. It also needs a continuation of rural business support programmes, such as those developed through Enterprise Hubs, the Rural Growth Network, Growth Hubs and local authorities. One activity that doesn’t currently exist though is a holistic approach to innovation in rural areas and this is where the Rural Design Centre comes in.

The Centre brings together communities, businesses, research and the public sector to tackle rural challenges, leading to new products, services and ways of doing things for the benefit of rural communities.

The Rural Design Centre will use established, proven design-thinking processes to identify and solve deep-seated rural challenges. Challenges like these tend to require thinking from different perspectives and fields of expertise. This means bringing together people from rural communities, from a range of businesses across multiple sectors, the public sector and researchers to come up with ground-breaking ideas. These ideas then need to be fleshed-out and tested in the communities they are meant to help.

The approach to be used is the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ of Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. The Centre will involve all four stakeholder groups in each stage, ensuring that diverse thinking leads to solutions that are grounded in the real world. One of Europe’s top design schools, Northumbria University’s School of Design, will lead on the Double Diamond process, whilst the Centre will employ engagement specialists focused on each of the four stakeholder groups (communities, business, public sector and research).

Physical Base

The Centre will have a physical base in Stannington, near Morpeth in Northumberland. Whilst rural in nature, Stannington is close to main transport links with easy access to the A1 trunk road, North East Mainline (via Morpeth and Newcastle stations) and Newcastle Airport.

This base will be used for events, workshops and to host project teams working on rural innovation. Importantly though, much of the Centre’s work will take place in the communities it is intended to serve.

The Centre’s objective is to catalyse the development of new products, processes and services for the economic and social benefit of rural communities. These new solutions will be developed and tested initially with rural communities in North East England, before being offered nationally.


The Rural Design Centre is now up and running.