It’s hard to believe that our wonderful friend and colleague has passed away so suddenly and untimely this week. I knew Paul for 24 years and worked with him in one form or another over almost all of that period. His loss is a huge personal blow for his family and friends, but also an enormous loss to the academic community in terms of his insights, creativity, commitment to supporting young researchers and the genuine affection he inspired in others.
Paul grew up in Tynemouth on the outskirts of Newcastle and went to school at the Royal Grammar School near to Newcastle University but then went off to Oxford University to study geography, where he was awarded a first-class degree. He returned to the North East, initially taking a research job with Northumbria Police whilst registering for a PhD at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies in Newcastle University. He quickly switched in early 1996 to a research post in CURDS working with me on a range of North East based projects, and also undertaking his PhD part-time.. Paul was an incredibly productive researcher from those early days: out interviewing local firms, pulling together all kinds of data and preparing reports for a range of local and regional agencies. He became one of the essential people in CURDS for any local project we got involved in. Assembling a huge body of material his PhD drew on a variety of such studies to examine the extent to which the North East economy was modernising, using sectoral case studies from electronics, pharmaceuticals and IT services.
Paul had wide interests, but would also delve deeply into those things that captured his interest. An early obsession, covered in his thesis, was a small electronics firm on Tyneside called Joyce Loebl which had spun out around 40 firms over the years, and Paul tracked down various spin off firms and people involved in the business to develop the case study as almost an investigative piece of business history, published in Entrepreneurship and Regional Development in 2004. Paul’s PhD was awarded in 2002, and he won a one-year postdoctoral fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council to develop publications from the thesis and to set out on his journey as an independent researcher. A key paper from this project was his 2004 Urban Studies paper with Nick Henry on ‘Where is the value added in the cluster approach? Hermeneutic theorising, economic geography and clusters as a multiperspectival approach’.
Around this time though Paul also began to get involved alongside me in projects related to universities, such as the Regional Mission project for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, liaising with regional HE associations in England to co-create a set of regional reports on university regional engagement, together with a national report and a benchmarking tool for assessing regional impacts. This led into work he did with OECD on the contributions of HE to regional development, including a much-cited paper with Peter Arbo. Paul always had a deep interest in policy and policy lessons, and a policy review paper in Regional Studies in 2001 on science and technology policy in the UK regions was developed from evidence we had submitted to a House of Lords committee.
His two interests in universities and regional innovation came together in 2004 in an ESRC project ‘Bringing Cambridge to Consett’ looking at university spin offs in peripheral regions, which included a comparison between the North East and Twente in the Netherlands and began his relationship with the university of Twente and its region. Two papers in European Planning Studies resulted: a comparative paper on the two regions in 2005 and a Newcastle case study, the ‘seven samurai’ paper in 2006. From 2004 Paul had also been awarded a Research Councils UK academic fellowship which funded his research with the aim of transitioning to a permanent academic position. From this point Paul became an established project leader, with for example a project for NESTA in the UK on regional innovation leadership and an ESRC project on universities and disadvantaged communities, both in 2007.
The connection Paul had developed with Twente led him to a move away from his home region to a senior researcher job at the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies in Twente in 2009. At Twente he led on a variety of large higher education research projects including HERAVALUE, “Measuring the societal impacts of universities’ research into arts and the humanities” and Eunivation: measuring the contribution of universities to European territorial innovation capacity. His publication rate was prodigious, with books on ‘University engagement with socially excluded communities’, ‘Universities and regional development’, ‘The impacts and future of arts and humanities research’ and ‘Universities and regional development in the periphery’. He published papers in a wide range of journals with a diverse set of co-authors, often helping junior colleagues at an early stage in their careers.
Paul took to life in the Netherlands, moving to a small village in the Twente region with his wife Leanne. Paul had started learning Dutch at Newcastle when he first began comparative work with Twente and became very proficient. His colleagues at Twente recall how he integrated into the local community. He had always been a keen cyclist, and colleagues in CURDS remember how he used to arrive in his cycling lycra in all weathers, so cycling to work in Twente was second nature.
More recently, Paul was a central figure in the RUNIN Marie Curie network, led by Stavanger and covering seven countries, and was heavily involved in the writing of the bid over three submissions before it was funded from 2016. He provided huge support to the 14 PhD students in the project and led on the theme of places and territories. The training week he led in Twente was amazing in the way he got regional partners involved, organised focus groups and led the PhDs to make recommendations to the region that were enthusiastically received.
In 2019 Paul was appointed to a well-deserved professorship of innovation and regional development at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, where he was leading a novel PhD programme on Responsible Regional Innovation (RESINNREG). He had started winning new research projects in his new base with a project on a Nordic perspective on the public value of social sciences and humanities research, and participation in big multi-partner networks on Responsible Research and Innovation Ecosystems at Regional Scale and Releasing User Power for Responsible MedTech Innovation. In the last few weeks he was involved in major new project proposals and was working on a proposal the day before he died as well as supporting RUNIN PhD students in their future plans.
Paul had married his wife Leanne back in Newcastle, they were both from the ‘coast’, and there was even a joint paper in 2002, before they married, on sustainable development and new English regional governance. In the Netherlands their children Theo and Martha were born, and when Paul took the post in Bergen he moved the family back to Whitley Bay. Paul always retained a deep affection and bond with the coastal strip north of the River Tyne, even contributing articles up to this year to the local magazine for Whitley Bay football club. He was passionate about sport, playing rugby in his youth as well as football, and just as passionate about the development of the North East of England, and his engagement with policy. He wrote a monthly column on economic development and policy issues in the Newcastle Journal newspaper, the main local morning paper, even whilst living in the Netherlands, often reflecting on the view of the region from abroad.
Paul made an enormous contribution to the literature and to the next generation of researchers, but at 46 he had at least half of his career still ahead of him. He was universally liked and respected, and was down to earth with no airs and graces, usually with a smile on his face, and an excellent companion whether over a beer or discussing theory on a panel. He was a great scholar and true original. I am one of a great many who will miss him enormously. Our thoughts go out to his wife Leanne and their two children.