How is colonial history represented in our regional heritage?

Recently the decision to change the name of Colston Hall provoked widespread debate. GW4’s Bridging the Gap project has now held a workshop at Dyrham Park, near Bath, to bring together researchers, participants from the heritage sector, community history groups and creative practitioners to consider how colonial history is represented in our regional heritage narratives. We hear from Research Associate Liz Haines about how history continues to shape today’s arts, cultural and heritage institutions across South West England and South East Wales.

The Great West region (South West England and South East Wales) has historically benefitted from the processes of violence, displacement, disfranchisement and unequal exchange that colonialism produced. Across the region there have been sustained efforts to reframe how those historical processes are presented, with historians and activists demanding that the public recognise a broader range of perspectives on Britain’s colonial past. This requires giving a platform to narratives that substantially address the brutality and tragedy that European colonialism left in its wake.

These demands are being met more often in public institutions such as universities and museums, and in black history community projects. Widely reported discussion around the naming of Colston Hall has brought Bristol’s slaving history more firmly into public consciousness. However, the work of generating public histories of colonialism that are more accurate, visible and inclusive is an ongoing and challenging project.

The group that met on 4th July were particularly interested in how collaborations could contribute to generating engaging and radical public histories of colonialism. Drawing together the expertise of academic researchers, museum and heritage practitioners, community historians and creative practitioners represented a starting point for such collaborations. We asked: what can each of these groups bring to the table to ensure that the region’s colonial heritage is narrated in ways that are accurate, challenging, moving, and meaningful?

Colonial networks of influence

The focus of the day’s discussion was the work of the National Trust at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire where the Trust is investing in new displays and strategies to present the history of Dyrham Park. Participants in the Bridging the Gap workshop were invited to ‘think along’ with the National Trust and consider what some of the challenges and opportunities will be in that process.

The group came to the workshop equipped with some reading about Dyrham’s history. The most important era for the house and gardens at Dyrham Park, was the 17th century, when they were owned by William Blathwayt (1649-1717). As Surveyor and Auditor General of the Colonies, Blathwayt oversaw a massive expansion of the colonial system, and an increase in revenues for the British government from plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean. The splendour and luxury of Dyrham Park demonstrate the importance of this governmental post and its financial reward. More particularly, however, it reflects Blathwayt’s central position in colonial networks of influence.

Blathwayt’s position at the hub of British colonialism meant that he was able to accrue plants, materials, objects and works of art from the boundaries of European trade- across the Americas and Asia. In decorating the house and planting of the gardens, Blathwayt could use the rarity and novelty of these items to dazzle his guests. Yet the mechanisms underpinning the arrival of these luxury goods included the transatlantic slave trade, and the genocide of indigenous Americans. To date, the National Trust has struggled to address the history and legacies of colonialism head on, but it is now seeking to do so.

In the first part of the day the group began with a discussion of what they saw the challenges and opportunities of this project to be. In a collective brainstorming process it became clear that the group’s experience could be far more than the sum of its parts. From an academic perspective, the group identified key areas for more detailed research.

Specialist expertise was able to address specific questions and challenges… yet moving people into different environments generated new types of conversation

Bridging the gap between rural estates and urban communities

In order for the National Trust to clearly articulate the relationship of Dyrham Park to the history of the slave trade more historical research would be necessary. Current scholarship doesn’t adequately explain the role of governmental administrators in producing and maintaining the plantation system. From a curatorial perspective, discussion began about the levels of knowledge of colonialism in today’s communities and audiences, the difficulties of speaking with and working with new groups, and the processes of dealing with contentious competition between different interpretations of the past. Workshop participants who brought experience in working in education emphasised the importance of bridging the geographical ‘gap’ between Dyrham Park’s rural location and urban communities.

After outlining these possibilities and directions, the workshop broke into groups to explore the house and gardens. Equipped with a sketchbook, the groups took their own paths through the property. Through sketches, notes, diagrams and fragments of writing, they recorded what caught their attention. Reconvening as a group, we presented these fragments, and gradually some key themes emerged. Particular objects, materials and spaces had caught the attention of the group as focal points that could connect the remnants of William Blathwayt’s house and story to other lives and sites that were caught up in his colonial networks.

Some objects demonstrate that history directly and viscerally, such as a pair of carved slave-figure stands. Other objects might allow for creative or metaphorical narration from the perspective of the victims of colonial violence. Both birds and water played important symbolic roles for enslaved Africans, connecting them imaginatively to their homelands, their lost communities and to lost freedom. The workshop group pointed out moments where these motifs appeared in the house, and could be used to voice the loss, absence and disenfranchisement of colonial relationships.

Engaged collaboration

This led to further discussion about how a re-interpretation of Dyrham could be historically specific. What was it important to articulate about colonialism in general? What, on the other hand, was inherent to this site, and its particular history that couldn’t be told anywhere but at Dyrham? How should future presentations of Dyrham Park reflect popular understandings of colonial history. Where and how should they challenge audiences with new detail or perspectives?

In a final phase of reflection the group produced postcards from the future, and sketched out what they hoped a reinterpretation of Dyrham would achieve.These postcards sketched out scenarios in which reinterpretation could benefit a wide range of groups, making Dyrham an important site for both existing visitor groups and new communities to experience and understand history. These visions of future possibilities at Dyrham coincided with enthusiasm amongst participants to continue discussions, and possibly to begin an informal network.

For us at Bridging the Gap the workshop provided another fantastic opportunity to explore engaged, interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration. We were able to observe moments when specialist expertise was able to address specific questions and challenges. Yet moving people into different environments generated new types of conversation, and there was a great deal of commitment amongst all parties to learn from each others’ experience.

Dr Liz Haines is a Research Associate for GW4 Bridging the Gap.

Civic data collaboration in Bath – a model for the UK?

Empowering the wider community to use and understand civic data is fast becoming one of the major challenges for local government today. Could a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research, Bath and North East Somerset Council and Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group prove to be an innovative model for other parts of the UK to adopt?

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review, seemingly without irony, declared the Data Scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century”. This showed that complex data analysis had truly arrived as a tool of the future. That there is more data than ever before is surely the most self-evident truth facing anyone working in any field, let alone one in which data is an important currency.  This creates opportunities, possibilities and a popular narrative that something should be done about it all. Analysts are asked to anticipate this demand and help decision makers understand the opportunities, challenges and risks in all this data.

In local government, every service (from abandoned shopping trolleys to zoos) adds realms of transactional data to the corpus of local knowledge on a daily, if not instantaneous, basis. Cities are already using algorithms to predict crimere-route traffic and think about social care risk. It can sometimes feel as if any lamppost which isn’t wi-fi enabled is a waste. This execution has not been consistent, and the ability of city managers and local governments to realise the analytical opportunities inherent in this data is incredibly varied, with a number of different models emerging.

Analysing data in local civic spaces

Traditionally local government has run in-house analysis, often employing qualified specialists in fields such as demography, market research or public health. Teams are normally federated across an organisation or run through centralised units, and the relationship with IT services (the facilitators of access to data) is often unstructured. In-house analysis is currently characterised, alongside much of the sector, by increasing demand in the face of reductions in resources.

Some cities have already been thinking about the opportunities inherent in this more applied form of data for some time. Most famously, the New York model of an ‘Office of Data Analytics’ created a central space, outside of normal service delivery, to apply data science to public problems. The successes of this programme are widely documented. It is notable how similar in branding and involvement, how similar the look and feel of these narratives is, to those adopted by larger consultancy firms. Within the UK, NESTA have notably adopted the model and are rolling it out amongst a number of local authorities.

The use of consultancies is nothing new in the sector, and although expensive, is often preferable to employing rare skills in an organisation. Many of the larger consultancy firms are well established in the field of data analytics, often in association with an emerging ‘smart city’ agenda. These activities are often typified by a ‘black box’ approach to methodologies, accessed on a proprietary and paid-for basis. In some cases academic organisations themselves are incentivised to replicate this model, developing intellectual property and new methodologies with an eye to relicensing.

Finally, there are those areas adopting a more open model; the Data Mill North, originally in Leeds, but expanding fast; the Trafford Innovation Lab; and closer to home, Bath:Hacked have all provided a space localities can release data to empower the wider community to use local data. These models focus on an open data infrastructure, with Bath:Hacked being notable as having a local datastore owned entirely by the local community, rather than government itself.

It’s clear when looking at the exemplars in this area; that these innovations are often the preserve of larger or well-off cities. Innovation scales well, and those who have the money can develop, brand and sell their concepts and ultimately sustain the work through ongoing external investment. Those who can’t, won’t. Data ‘haves and have-nots’ may inevitably develop.

As public sector austerity remains one of the overriding forces of contemporary urban governance, there is a question about how it is possible to realise these benefits in places which might not have the advantages of scale or funding. It is too easy to finish any summary such as this with a passionate plea for government or some undefined higher power to provide funding for good data works, but in practice that is likely to be little more than an optimistic hope; instead we must continue to question if there may be another way.

An alternative way – towards partnerships of data and analytics?

In Bath and North East Somerset we think we have an interesting local approach, one which could perhaps scale without relying on ‘black boxes’ or extensive investment.

In 2013 a collaboration was established between the Council, Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and the Institute for Policy Research. The aim of this collaboration was to try to help the Council access academic skills and knowledge and realise actual policy impacts. Simultaneously the Council supported the development of Bath:Hacked.

This collaboration is based open principles of open data and open source and makes a virtue of the varied skills held across our civic space. No one organisation has the ownership of the entire process, nor are the benefits realised by one partner alone.

The collaboration has been successful in attracting external funding for projects as wide-ranging as school’s energy efficiency through to uses of new technology in Social Prescribing services. This approach has helped all partners use their analytical resources differently without requiring significant additional investment.

Such endeavours also come with some degree of risk. Our work is reliant on the passion and dedication of individuals, within organisations and in the community at large and is vulnerable to people changing jobs, leaving the area or finding themselves with less spare time to commit to this work. In addition, as the collaboration emerged from fixed term funding, the work itself was constrained by time. In addition we have faced various issues of timeliness, access and relevance in ensuring that analytical outputs reach their desired audience.

The future of collaboration

For 2017 the collaboration will look to move onto a more formal partnership footing and examine options to do this. They seem to range from increasing the number and range of informal networks to a structured ‘front door’ model.

Focussing more on an informal footing means we increase the sustainability of the collaboration and its reach, but increases the reliance on goodwill and personal commitment from individuals involved.

As we progress, the main question remains whether this model can scale, not just in terms of engaging beyond the traditionally active data community, but also whether it might provide a model for other areas, potentially those without the scale or resource to attract high-cost innovation.

Jon Poole is Research and Intelligence Manager at Bath and North East Somerset Council, and works with the IPR on the project Connecting data across public services in Bath & North East Somerset

The original version of this article can be found at the IPR Blog.

SETsquared: Focussed on Growth

SETsquared is the world’s number 1 university business incubator. Simon Bond, Innovation Director of SETsquared, discusses the secret to their long-standing success, and what they plan to do next. 

Over the last 15 years, the SETsquared Partnership of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey has established a successful track-record based on unlocking economic growth from the commercialisation of research, incubation and collaboration with businesses. During this period and in order to ‘feed’ these initiatives, the Partnership has also launched programmes to develop the business skills of its most talented entrepreneurial students and researchers.

From our base in the South of England, the impact of SETsquared has been measurable and it has helped to unlock over £1bn of private sector investment through its support of 1,000 science, engineering and technology companies. Many of these companies have continued to achieve great success as our alumni and gone on to have an economic impact that has been independently assessed to be worth over £3.8bn, and to have created 9,000 new jobs.

As pioneers, and because of the success of our member companies, SETsquared has been regularly acknowledged for its thought leadership and practices. Most recently it was commended for its work in the Dowling Review and also cited in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper. Since 2015, SETsquared has been ranked as the world’s No.1 university business incubator.

So far so good. But where do we go from here? Undoubtedly, these are extraordinary times and ‘business as usual’ and incremental growth is not enough. SETsquared does have the advantage of the long view, and survived and thrived through previous seismic shifts, with the 2008 financial crisis and the bonfire of the quangos and the reorganisation of our regional system that followed, being just two examples among many. In this context, Brexit and the likelihood of new trade flows in a new global economy is set to be ‘similarly extraordinary’. No one has come up with the winning formula yet, but I’d bet that our best chance of making a success of the present situation will come from an entrepreneurial and creative response from the kind people and companies that SETsquared has a track record of working with.

The good news is that we have a head start with this community. One of the benefits of pioneering is that many of the start-ups that SETsquared has worked with over the last 15 years have now matured to become substantial scale-up companies led by entrepreneurs with whom we have a long-term, trusted relationships. Earlier this year we celebrated the achievements of many of these good friends at SETsquared’s House of Commons Reception for our top 50 Entrepreneurs from the last 15 years. In the weeks that followed we carried out research based on detailed interviews with this cohort of scale up alumni and members and were delighted that they were very clear on how SETsquared should continue to add value to their ambitious growth plans – specifically our scale-up alumni and members told us that they are looking to SETsquared to support them via mentoring and critical business review, along with access to international customers and access finance for growth and innovation.

Alongside this endorsement of the SETsquared model, a further benefit of our track record in business incubation is that, through the activities of our member companies, we have built a presence and reputation in several key innovation-intensive sectors, specifically in: digital, data and communications; advanced engineering and manufacturing; health and wellbeing; and a spectrum of environmental and sustainable related technologies. The deal flow provided by our member companies in these sectors has caught the attention of large corporates including from the likes of Apple, Schlumberger, Huawei, Magna and Sony along with many more, especially since we launched the SETsquared Open Innovation Programme four years ago. Not surprisingly, the presence of consistently high-quality deal flow and corporate interest, has also caught the eye of specialist investors, from the City of London of course, but also from the East and West coast of the USA, and lately, from tech hot spots in China, who look to SETsquared as an access point to world-class new technology, innovation and talent.

Encouragingly, the nexus between scale-ups and these innovation-intensive sectors has also been picked-up as an opportunity for economic growth by the recent Science and Innovation Audits, in which GW4 was instrumental in South West England and South East Wales.

This has helped SETsquared to shape its own ‘extraordinary response’ to these extraordinary times and develop plans to power-up its proven ability to unlock GVA from private companies. We will of course maintain and continue to invest in our presence as the ‘go-to’ place for start-ups through our incubators. However, SETsquared will also launch programmes that will help the many ambitious scale-up companies in our networks and from across our region, particularly from the innovation-intensive sectors that are the distinct strengths of the South of England, to access innovation and R&D collaborations with our universities, access international customers and access investment in order to grow and build their businesses as an integrated part of the UK knowledge base.

Simon Bond is Innovation Director at SETsquared Partnership.

Cultural investment and collaboration in the South West

Arts Council England has just concluded its National Portfolio investment for the period 2018-22. In the South West of England, this means a commitment of £112 million across four years to 102 cultural organisations, from Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to Cornwall’s Leach Pottery, Bristol’s Watershed to Bridport Arts Centre.

In the South West, we have sought to invest at scale in places such as Plymouth  and Southampton, levered by sustained investment from local authorities and robust higher education partnerships. We have also sought to invest in places of lower engagement, with National Portfolio Organisations for the first time in Torbay, Weston-super-Mare and Gloucester.

I can say with some confidence that the number of artists and organisations making work here is greater than it’s ever been. The inter-relationships within cultural and creative industries are more fluid and dynamic than ever before. Cities such as Bristol are net importers of cultural talent. And towns and cities across the region are hastening to acknowledge that arts and culture is the “rocket fuel” that drives place and identity.

…and yet – the medium-to-long term prognosis for cultural development in South West England is complex. Much of the art is fantastic. The reach and engagement of audiences is broader than ever. But levering investment into cultural activity remains sporadic.

The investment landscape for local government is incredibly challenging. Higher education has an offer to make to the sector, but it won’t be – and shouldn’t be – to provide an alternate grant funding system. Philanthropy is emerging as an important dimension, but is necessarily a long-burn game. The business community recognises cultural development as a driver for growth, but from a Local Enterprise Partnership perspective, it isn’t a sector that provides easy metrics around jobs growth and economic impact.

So that’s a notable feature of our investment for 2018-22 – the development of a “best practice” portfolio which features new and entrepreneurial business models, mergers, social investment and independent museums with sound commercial acumen.

Examples of this include:

These organisations are the outriders of the resilience revolution that the arts and cultural sector will need to embrace over the next few years, not just in South West England, but nationwide.

So the big challenge I’d like to throw down is to ask what relationship higher education in the Great West imagines itself having with arts and cultural organisations over the next decade.

There’s some fabulous best practice out there already, such as the co-investment of the two Bristol universities in Watershed’s Pervasive Media Lab. In similar vein, the REACT hub propelled higher education and cultural entrepreneurs towards each other and catalysed 53 new digital products and experiences.

It’s not all about product. Just as often, partnerships between higher education and cultural organisations can result in an enhanced sense of place. Since the its triumphant hosting of British Art Show 7, Plymouth University has played a central role in that city’s cultural revival, as a core member of the city’s culture board and partner in the iconic Plymouth History Centre project. Meanwhile, in Southampton, the two universities are actively reinventing the city’s identity through their financial and intellectual investment in the new cultural quarter, and the outreach which will arise from it.

But there is much more to be done, and in a spirit of provocation, I’d like to pose a few questions which might be useful in helping frame future ambition:

  • Should higher education consider a more philanthropic approach to investing in the west’s cultural organisations? (I’d suggest “Yes”) What benefits accrue from “soft” investment relative to “hard transactions”? (I’d suggest “stronger HE brands and higher student numbers”).
  • Do cultural organisations need to better understand the financial, social and institutional return on investment that higher education might be seeking from engaging with them? (I’d suggest “Yes, definitely”)
  • What do STEM-focused universities stand to gain from engagement with arts and culture? (I’d suggest “research value, brand firepower and a crucial lever for widening participation)
  • We live in a world where “content” is more fluid than ever before. Are traditionally structured artforms and degrees a vital underpinning to arts and culture, or an unnecessary confinement? (I’d suggest “increasingly the latter rather than the former”).

…all of which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the deeper and broader conversation this territory merits. But the benefits are potentially huge – both for the undercapitalised cultural sector and the fiercely competitive higher education marketplace. From an Arts Council England perspective, we’re more than happy to join that conversation.

Phil Gibby is Area Director, South West for the Arts Council England. 

Image from The Rooms, a festival celebrating the work produced by REACT. REACT was a collaboration led by UWE Bristol and Watershed, with the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. Photograph by Max McClure

Frontier thinking: exploring the West’s tech success

The ‘Silicon Gorge’ has long been hailed as a hive of creative and technological disruption – but what’s the secret to the growth of the UK’s largest digital cluster outside of London? We hear from Oracle’s Phil Bates on how start-ups, global businesses and universities are driving the South West’s digital economy through collaboration

Back in the 1990s, Oracle established an office in the South West city of Bristol – a time when ‘ubiquitous computing’ was the buzzword of the day, and organisations were just beginning to wake up to the potential of the region as a hub of technological expertise. Fast forward nearly 25 years, and that reputation is assured.

As a recent Tech Nation report indicated, the broader region is a powerhouse in terms of digital jobs (over 67,000 at last count) and digital revenue (£2.2 billion GVA). The explanation behind this success is complex: a perfect storm of target industries, supportive businesses, innovative start-ups and research-intensive universities.

A highly-skilled workforce full of ‘serial founders’

In Bristol, the intersection of high performance computing, cloud computing and digital media industries has led to an unusually high concentration of people with expertise in developing applications. When, in 2014, Oracle decided to establish our Strategic Cloud Development Centre here, one of the first questions we asked was: is there the talent we need to build our team?

So we did our research: we undertook an analysis of LinkedIn profiles and tracked Meetups in the area. We found serial founders on their second or even third start-ups who wanted to build in the city they lived in. It was evident that there was a rich seam of talent and enthusiasm, borne out by consistently high registration for developer events; indeed, Bristol and Bath has the greatest number of Meetups outside of London.

We aren’t the only global company to have noticed the potential of the South West’s highly skilled workforce – our bedfellows in Bristol include Amazon, IBM, Cray and HPE (Hewlett Packard) each with well established product development teams in the city.

Creative case studies

Oracle is always looking for innovative use cases to test our latest services and products. Bristol has a distinct advantage in that it is home to a large number of animation and digital media companies, from the world-famous Aardman to agile start-ups. Animated films can take up to one to ten hours to render each frame – at at least 21 frames a second. For companies producing animated films, computing performance is critical – as is the need for super fast networking and the ability to securely store huge volumes of media. These requirements provide a rich vein for collaboration between high tech companies like Oracle, and fast moving, creative and innovative Bristol film production companies.

We met local start-up Yellow Dog through reaching out to the Bristol developer community. They had found that rendering animation was an extremely time-consuming process, and involved delivering huge amounts of data onto a separate cloud service. Working together, we took only a couple of days to deliver a proof-of-concept solution using Oracle’s Bare Metal Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), with ground-breaking performance, networking and file storage capabilities.

Collaboration has to be based on  a foundation of mutual benefit, and in this case, Yellow Dog were able to access cutting-edge technology before it had been made available to the market, and we were able to improve Bare Metal Cloud’s performance through a real-life user challenge.

The results were phenomenal – Yellow Dog reported back that they were able to increase the speed of rendering by up to 10 x faster for every single use case, making our service much more effective than major competitors such as Amazon and Rackspace. We wanted to share the credit for the success of this collaboration, so we ensured that Yellow Dog shared platforms with us at conferences and took part in joint interviews in the media.

Another great example of the collision between creative and digital economies includes an earlier collaboration between HP Labs and the University of Bristol, which combined on-demand computing with high speed networking and applied this to digital media. The technology developed through this partnership was later used by Dreamworks to produce Shrek, ushering in the next generation of animated films.

Alongside the creative industries, the region is also home to the UK’s largest aerospace sector and a growing expertise in new energy systems – providing companies like Oracle with hugely valuable user case studies, from fluid modelling and dynamics to virtual reality.

The next generation of innovators

Another important component of Bristol and the South West’s success as a digital technology cluster lies in its access to research-intensive and entrepreneurial universities. We have long worked fruitfully with academics and students across the region through a number of ways: we develop collaborative research, offer internships and hire local graduates. We liaised directly with higher education institutions, businesses, LEPs and the Welsh Government on the South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit and continue to champion science and innovation for the region together as the Great West Taskforce.

Our relationships with Universities in the region have evolved from informal collaboration on an individual level to a formal, organisation-wide partnerships. At University of Bristol, for example, we deliver guest lectures, consult on their curriculum to provide a commercial perspective and offer mentoring for student computing projects, from architectural advice to ensuring methodology meets the industry standard. Together with the University of Bristol and UWE we are pushing back the frontiers of technological achievement, from breaking the land speed record, to providing new applications for protein modelling and gravitational waves.

Supporting the local tech ecosystem

The potential of the South West as a powerful technology cluster has been well-documented. But there is no room for complacency – we must continue to nurture and grow our local tech ecosystem. With this in mind, Oracle has chosen Bristol, alongside Paris, Delhi, Sao Paolo and others, to launch Oracle’s Start-Up Cloud Accelerator.

The programme, which will welcome its first cohort this year, provides a distinctive approach to helping startups scale – technically and commercially. Startups in the accelerator programme, based at Bristol’s Engine Shed, gain access to state of the art cloud technology, technical mentoring and the ability to work closely with Oracle’s product development teams worldwide. In addition, Oracle provides training and support to companies to reach and sell to enterprise scale customers – including many of the largest companies and public sector organisations in Oracle’s impressive 400,000+ customer base. 

Our mantra: start small, grow fast

The South West has many of the elements needed to make a world-leading technology cluster: highly skilled, motivated developers, innovative start-ups, major computing businesses and target industries such as creative media and aerospace. The final piece of the puzzle is how these elements come together: the way we all collaborate.

We believe in rapid collaboration and in getting to success – or failure – as early as possible in a collaboration. Whether we’re working with students or start-ups, our mantra is ‘start small, grow fast’ and the success of our collaborations is a testament to this. Imagination, generosity and a willingness to experiment are values shared by many organisations around the South West, and they look set to sustain our digital economy for many years to come.

Phil Bates is an architect in Oracle’s public cloud development group, based in Bristol.

*These statistics collate Bristol & Bath, Exeter and Cardiff & Swansea tech clusters.

Image reproduced through Creative Commons: LukeAndrew94

‘Smart specialisation’ and building links with SMEs

The University of Bath will shortly hear from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UK RPIF) and the West of England LEP, on whether its £50 million bid to build a new Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPs) facility at the Bristol and Bath Science Park has been successful. The main idea behind IAAPs is to bring together the university’s leading researchers (from the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Powertrain and Vehicle Research Centre), corporate manufacturers and SMEs to research and develop the next generation of low carbon technologies and more efficient combustion engines, alongside developing electric and hybrid systems and alternative fuels. If IAAPS goes ahead, it is estimated the facility will stimulate £67 million in new research and development between 2020 and 2025. In doing so, the IAAPS facility will seek to conduct transformational research in the automotive industry, to position the UK as a global competitor in the research and design of new environmentally friendly vehicles.

While the IAAPS proposal is primarily geared towards to the automotive industry, it offers the potential to engage with what might be described as a ‘smart specialisation’ process. This is where government funders – in collaboration with other private and public sector actors – identify and fund specific technologies, fields or domains where there is significant potential for technological development, knowledge spill-overs, scale and agglomeration economies and new market opportunities. This is the way in which modern industrial policy is conducted and is outlined in the UK government’s recent Green Paper (2017). The Smart Specialisation policy does not favour particular firms or necessarily sectors per se, but rather revolves around the private and public sectors discovering new opportunities, then identifying and supporting specific activities and/or technological domains with commercial potential.

A ‘smart specialisation’ strategy has a strong regional element, since it seeks to exploit existing regional competences and expertise, while empowering local actors to realise this potential and develop new (technological) specialisms. It is believed that such a ‘place-based’ approach can facilitate dynamic regional growth. If IAAPs goes ahead, it is speculated that it can open up a range of exciting possibilities for firms and other actors (such as scientific researchers) to exploit technological synergies in related sectors, such as aerospace and high tech engineering in which the South West region has existing strengths. Thus, it is hoped that IAAPs will enhance the South West’s cluster dynamic through innovation and improving productivity.

In making the case for IAAPs, it has been important to emphasise how these cluster dynamics may form and evolve within the wider South West region, and, in particular, the role of SMEs within the cluster. Last summer, on behalf of the University, we explored how SMEs might benefit from working with IAAPs and their possible use of the proposed facilities. We conducted a short survey of UK SMEs in both the automotive and aerospace industries. Overall, our results indicate UK SMEs – across both sectors – are positive about the prospect of IAAPS in the South West, seeing it as a conduit for accessing and sharing information relating to new technologies, accessing a wider network of industry contacts, and strengthening their supply chain relationships. Many SMEs also saw IAAPS as an opportunity to enhance their company image and potentially access public-sector funding. These benefits were enhanced further if IAAPS was associated with a global automotive manufacturer and the possibility of commercially oriented networking opportunities and knowledge transfer.

Following on from our research, the university has embarked upon a series of wider engagement initiatives with SMEs, providing more public information on IAAPS and conducting several focus groups with SMES and related stakeholders on designing an IAAPS facility that facilitates a collaborative and open platform for SMEs (and start-ups) that boosts their businesses, attracts new investment and enhances the cluster dynamic. If this can be achieved and the IAAPS facility goes ahead, it promises to be an exciting time for high tech engineering and advanced manufacturing in the South West.

Understanding and building the creative economy in the Cardiff capital region

For nearly a decade the creative industries and wider creative economy have been the fastest growing part of the UK economy. Recent figures published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport reveal that they generate nearly £9.6million per hour, contribute almost £90bn net to GDP and account for one in eleven jobs, a rate rising more quickly than all other parts of the economy.

It is also widely reported that the creative industries generate value that spreads far wider than the sector itself. They are a driver of business and activity for other sectors and support a wider supply chain; including the employment of over 800,000 creative occupations outside of the sector.

Hub Crawl SustainableAlongside this growth, there has been a heavy emphasis on place-based innovation and encouraging regional networks and clusters. We have known for some time that creative activity makes cities more interesting, liveable and vibrant. Initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine are developing their creative economy offering through better connectivity, brand, profile, cohesion as well as the ability to secure foreign direct investment, boost productivity and exports.

Trends in the growth of the creative economy are, for example, highly visible in the economy of Wales.  Identified as a Welsh Government economic development priority since 2011, there has been significant progress across the whole creative economy, from music and performance to digital marketing. In 2015 NESTA produced an estimate that the creative economy in Wales accounted for 77,483 jobs, including 22,324 jobs within the wider Cardiff Travel to Work area.

Cardiff has seen significant growth over the past decade. Our region is home to world-renowned creative industries and organisations, from major worldwide corporations to thriving SMEs and a rapidly developing digital economy. Alongside this, the development of the Cardiff Capital Region has also started to provide opportunities for greater cohesion, connecting the city to the regional economy, which is populated largely by small firms. But there is still work to be done to enable the wider Great West region to achieve its maximum potential with regards to creative economy activity.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council project REACT (Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology), one of four knowledge exchange hubs for the creative economy, began in 2012 with a goal to inject new depth and momentum into collaboration between arts and humanities academics and creative businesses. REACT brought together UWE Bristol and the Watershed with the GW4 universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Building upon the legacy of REACT, Cardiff University recruited a Creative Economy team in 2014 with an ambition to better understand, engage and enable the wider creative economy in the region. A central ambition of our work is for our city to be a capital of creativity. We’re sure the way to do this is by working collaboratively and playing to our collective strengths and this belief has formed the backbone of our approach.

In 2016 the team produced a detailed map of the creative economy workforce in Cardiff in order to understand the size, shape and clustering. The research identified 2,788 creative companies, organisations and freelancers in Cardiff and surrounding wards. The report, Mapping Cardiff’s Creative Economy, established that proximity to the city centre and the tendency of creative activity to cluster in particular neighbourhoods are the two main factors in the presence of creative activity. We hope to repeat this research in 2018 to include the city region.

Another issue identified early in this work was the lack of connectivity and silo working in different parts of the creative and cultural industries. We developed the Creative Cardiff Network to start addressing these issues and, 18 months on, we have an 1100-strong membership of creative people and organisations in Cardiff and the city region. Feedback from the network has highlighted the benefits for individuals – including the rapidly growing freelancer community – and organisations through better connectivity, engagement and networking opportunities as well as access to jobs.

Cardiff Creative CapitalWe have also recently embarked upon a partnership with Cardiff City Council, supported by Arts Council of Wales, to re-imagine and trial new approaches to promote and develop Cardiff’s creative economy. The main aim of this partnership is to work with, and on behalf of, the creative community in the city to ensure the opportunity for co-creation and co-delivery wherever possible. We are focusing on an agenda of practical initiatives which enable high impact contributions to the city’s creative economy in a time of tight financial constraints. Through Cardiff Council’s links to the UK Core Cities network of local authorities, we aim to learn from and to influence creative economy initiatives in other UK cities. The spirit of this ongoing collaboration was captured in a conference held at Cardiff University in December 2016:  Cardiff – Creative Capital.

We have also been undertaking work to explore and promote creative hubs and co-working spaces in the city region. These spaces have become essential to how creatives work and as such, to the growth and development of the creative economy globally. Over the past two years in particular, we’ve seen a number established – all differing in their offer. We have been doing work to develop our knowledge and understanding of these spaces. This is not limited to the physical space which they occupy, but by the services they provide and their contribution to the wider creative community including how and why they support the growth of this sector, at the same time as building a community of like-minded individuals.

In doing all of the above we have developed a clearer picture of the city itself as a creative space as well as the workforce driving this activity. But there is still work to do to clarify this picture and develop a long term strategy to support it in its next phase. Many have an intuitive impression of Cardiff as a city with a significant cultural sector, but less is known about the shape, character and breadth of the city’s creative economy.

There is great potential to develop this work across the wide region spanned by the GW4 Alliance. All four universities involvement in the REACT project have helped develop relationships between academics and practitioners in the creative and digital sector. We look forward to working closely with Professors Anthony Mandal and Tim Cole on GW4 Bridging the Gap to share good practice and take the work begun by REACT to the next level.

Sara Pepper is Director of Creative Economy at Cardiff University.

Cornwall: a key election battleground in the South West

With less than a week to go, the  General Election result in Cornwall is far from certain says Dr Joanie Willett, a lecturer in the politics department of the University of Exeter who is based at the Tremough campus in Penryn.

On paper, Cornwall looks like a fascinating region to watch this General Election. The last time it was totally blue was back in the early 1900s, and in 2005 all five of its MPs were Liberal Democrat.

Before that, between 1997 and 2005 the sole MP who was not Liberal Democrat was Labour. This means that the Conservative hold on all of its Parliamentary seats is far from secure.

For the Liberal Democrats, the nature of Cornwall as a traditional stronghold for their party must place this as a key strategic battleground. Tim Farron needs big wins if he is to be able to have any chance of vocalising his pro-Remain position on a Parliamentary basis.

But this is where politics and elections get complicated. It’s so easy to look at the stats and draw conclusions about what might or might not happen, and what are the key places to watch.

As an example, let’s look at Falmouth and Truro. This is a newly created seat, but Truro is a key Liberal Democrat area and had returned a Liberal/Liberal Democrat MP since the 1970s.

In 2010, Sarah Newton won only very narrowly, with 41.7% of the vote to LD Terrye Teverson‘s 40.8%. Despite this, the strain on Liberal Democrat finances and activist resources meant that it didn’t count as a priority seat in 2015, which perhaps went some way to account for Stephen Rix’s dreadful showing of 16.8%.

What this illustrates is that just looking at the bare statistics only tells us a small part of the story – and it’s the internal politics of the individual seats during election campaigns that goes a long way to explaining what happens during the vote.

So why did the Liberal Democrats do so badly in the 2015 elections in Truro and Falmouth?

There are two key reasons. Firstly, they had a candidate who was not as good at working the electorate as Terrye Teverson was.

Secondly, the Liberal Democrats were broke following popular fury at their involvement in the Coalition – to such an extent that they didn’t even have the money to fight marginals.

Everything was spent on trying (and ultimately failing) to hold on to the seats that they already had – one being Nick Clegg’s Sheffield seat, which he very nearly lost.

So what has changed now? The big difference is the huge spike in membership that the Liberal Democrats experienced both in 2015, and again, as the party voice of Remain after the Brexit vote in 2016.

In truth, however, the figures for 2016 (79,000) have only taken it back to pre-2001 levels. Currently, following the announcement of the June 8 General election, their membership base has soared once more to over 100,000. This is a figure not seen since 1994.

So how about Labour? Labour’s relationship with Cornwall over the past few years is particularly interesting.

After serving two terms, Candy Atherton, Cornwall’s sole Labour MP (in Falmouth and Camborne) for many years, was defeated in 2005 by the Liberal Democrat Julia Goldsworthy.

However, their share of the vote in 2010 was a dreadful less than 10%. But much of this seems to have been related to the fact that their candidate was unpopular and some supporters were seduced (and then disappointed) by voting tactically.

But by 2015 Labour’s vote share had bounced back to more than 15% – possibly in part because of the return of disillusioned tactical voters.

The big change since 2015, however, has been (surprise surprise), Jeremy Corbyn. The archetypal Marmite politician, loved and loathed in equal measure, there is no doubt that he has mobilised many.

Labour party membership (at more than 517,000) is now at levels not previously seen since 1980 and Cornwall is not immune to this.

Anecdotally, Labour party activity in Cornwall has rocketed over the past two years, and Jeremy Corbyn has made high-profile visits to the region at least twice over the past two years. This is unheard of for a Labour party leader.

What does this mean for Truro and Falmouth? It certainly means that Sarah Newton is likely to see her commanding majority reduced. But this is going to depend significantly on the candidates that the parties select.

We still don’t know the degree to which voters will continue to punish the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Certainly, some people will be less inclined to vote tactically, even now. But we also don’t know how deeply the anti-Tory part of Cornish civil society runs.

The aftermath of the 2015 elections led to an enormous cross-party mobilisation in Cornwall, based on a perceived urgency to restrain Conservative austerity.

In fact, two coaches went from Cornwall to a London-based anti-austerity demonstration in June 2015. This kind of activity had a precedent only in the 2003 Stop The War marches.

What we don’t know yet, is how much this strength of feeling will be translated into votes across Cornwall. So will the Conservatives hold on to their seats here?

That is going to depend on the strength of the candidates and on how well the parties resource their local campaigns.

If Labour and the Liberal Democrats utilise their huge war chests gained from massive increases in party membership, they will give the Conservatives a proper run for their money.

Dr Joanie Willett is a Lecturer (Education and Research) at University of Exeter’s Penryn campus.

This article was originally published at Cornwall Live, and has been reproduced with permission of the University of Exeter. 

Engagement and Analytics: how Exeter is delivering place-based change

Exeter is the fastest growing city in the UK but also the slowest moving. Dr Liz O’Driscoll, Head of Innovation at Exeter City Futures, outlines their goal to make Exeter congestion free and energy independent by 2025

Cities, and the unprecedented growth of urban environments, present both the greatest challenge and opportunity of our lifetime. As drivers of economic growth, cities are essential to modern life, but unsustainable trends in energy use, congestion and associated negative consequences threaten the health of cities and their citizens. Rapid urbanisation presents acute challenges for all local and national governments with constrained capacity and finance for infrastructure delivery. Current restraints on the public purse are likely to compound matters unless tackled with solutions drawn from both public and private arenas. Exeter’s private and public sectors are already working in partnership to tackle these challenges head-on.

Exeter City Futures is the only privately funded whole city transformation programme in the UK, investing to stimulate innovative solutions to the challenges Greater Exeter faces. We have set the bold goal to make Exeter congestion free and energy independent by 2025.

Fastest growing but slowest moving

I joined Exeter City Futures a little over a year ago and in this short space of time I have had the opportunity to work alongside city leadership, stakeholders and residents to understand the vision for the city and to begin to explore the challenges it faces.

Image Imagining the Future of Exeter
What could Exeter’s future look like?

In January 2017 Exeter was named the fastest growing city in the UK. There is no doubt that within the City leadership this economic success has been welcome, but maintaining and expanding on the region’s successes in the future comes with its own set of challenges – challenges that align well with what’s happening at a national level as political parties focus on industrial strategy. The Greater Exeter population is expected to increase by 40,000 within the next ten years and, unless solutions are found, will bring increased pressure on housing, employment, the environment and our transport network. Indeed the City is already beginning to feel the effect of congested roads, being named the slowest moving by INRIX. Both headlines are evidence of the need to make change.

The good news is our economic region is prospering; offering fertile ground for attracting innovators, startups, and SMEs with solutions to help us thrive. Exeter is also home to the largest cluster of digital businesses south west of Bristol, with a population that is among the best trained in the UK. A world-leading university and several globally renowned organisations are testament to Exeter’s potential to make change.

Exeter City Futures

Founded in 2016, Exeter City Futures is as a Community Interest Company delivering transformational change within the City. Our vision is for a healthy and prosperous city with optimised and efficient energy and transport networks, a dynamic eco-system of commercial innovation and a high-skills economy that underpins growth and inward investment.

At its core, the Exeter City Futures approach is a process for defining problems, building partnerships to find solutions, and managing and measuring progress. Over the past year we have launched – alone or in partnership – a number projects that are beginning to address some of the challenges that face our city.

Fundamental to our approach is discovering what our City needs in this period of global change; what do we want our city to be and what opportunities do we want to make available to the citizens. We are building capacity within the city to unleash bold Ideas with big impact on our goals. Through creating an environment where the City innovates together, supported at the highest level with political and corporate partnership, we can focus our collaborative energy to deliver shared goals and inspire action that contributes towards sustainable change.

At a local level Exeter City Futures has developed a strategy that can be made to work to deal with global investment imperatives, local economic need and create places with drastically improved health and quality of life; all without long-term reliance on government subsidy.

We have an ambitious but achievable opportunity to thrive as a vibrant, sustainable City and an exemplar for place-based social and technological change. It is all too easy to focus on the big picture and we often ignore the small things which satisfy the needs of people on a very local scale. But through focussing on place and bringing together citizens, entrepreneurs, public and private sectors around a shared understanding of the real challenges, I believe that we can stimulate innovation that develops the types of solutions we need to find and ensure Exeter secures its status as a sustainable city fit for future generations.

Dr Liz O’Driscoll is Head of Innovation at Exeter City Futures

Data science and innovation: making the most of our regional expertise

With organisations such as the ONS, the Met Office, Airbus and Oracle on our doorstep, coupled with world-leading in-house expertise at universities across the region, the time is ripe for a Great West network in data science and innovation, argues Professor Stephen Fairhurst

Developing capacity for research and development in data science is now a major national priority. This much was clear when, in November 2015, the national Alan Turing Institute (ATI) officially launched– a flagship investment that catalysed a wave of data science initiatives UK-wide.

Local growth

Alongside the national focus on data science and innovation, there has been a strident call from the previous Government to develop local growth potential in key research and industry strengths. The Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which set the Government’s stall for addressing the productivity challenge, pledged to “back local innovation” and the then-Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, called for “locally-directed, collaborative working”.

Bolstering the Industrial Strategy were tranches of Science and Innovation Audits which outlined definitive research and industry expertise in UK regions. For South West England and South East Wales, digital innovation was in the spotlight – specifically recognising the region’s underpinning strength in data analytics.

Industry strengths

The potential of the region to become a data science and innovation powerhouse is clear, and its supporters are making their voices heard. A recent talk at Cardiff University from Stian Westlake, then-Policy Advisor to Jo Johnson (Minister for Universities and Science), focused on the rich data science ecosystem of South Wales, highlighting that the region is home to national government bodies such as the ONS, Companies House and the Intellectual Property Office, alongside major commercial businesses with expertise in data science such as Admiral.

Over the Severn Bridge the data science and innovation industry landscape is just as vibrant, featuring global organisations from Airbus to Oracle alongside thriving SMEs and start-ups. The Met Office, based in Exeter, is an unparalleled leader in climate and environmental data analytics.

Research expertise

Expertise in data analytics is, of course, cultivated from seed in our universities and research labs. For example, the University of Bristol has recently set up the Jean Golding Institute for Data Intensive Research; Cardiff University has the Data Innovation Research Institute, Exeter is developing the Data Science Institute and Bath is home to the well-established Institute for Mathematical Innovation.

So how do we all work together to make the most of our regional expertise in data science and innovation? The consortium responsible for the Science and Innovation Audit – a collection of 36 higher education institutions, businesses, LEPs and Welsh Government – has now matured into the Great West Taskforce, whose mission is to raise the profile of science and innovation in our region. We can build upon the relationships forged by this group, and use this as a mechanism to further catalyse data science collaboration across the region.

We are also holding a series of ‘Data Intensive Research’ workshops across our four universities, focusing on thematic areas such as the creative industries, government, medicine and the environment. These free workshops will act as an opportunity to bring together researchers and industry representatives to develop new ideas and partnerships in data science and innovation. The time is ripe for a data science and innovation network in the Great West, and we hope you will join us in building it.

Data Intensive Research Workshops will take place across the GW4 Alliance between 16 May 2017 and 15 June 2017. Find out more and book at

Professor Stephen Fairhurst is Director of the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University, and one of the GW4 lead academics in the Data Intensive Research community.