Northern Lights: Why the Olympic Legacy Park could be a catalyst for more development

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When the Governor of the Bank of England spoke to local industrialists who had assembled on the shop floor of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre a few months ago he said: “This is the future for manufacturing.”

He acknowledged the contribution the universities were having on changing the civic life of the city and the impact the AMRC was having on the economy both locally and nationally, exampled through the partnership’s and close working relationships with companies like Rolls Royce, BAe etc

These investments will sit alongside the Rolls Royce investment on the Advanced Manufacturing Park which is one of the most advanced aerospace blade manufacturers in the world.

The Times journalist John Morgan’s recent article in the Times Education Supplement ‘The Steel City forging a university-industry-community alloy’ acknowledged the unique partnership between academia and the private sector in driving the competitiveness and productivity of the country’s advanced manufacturing sector.

He also made the telling point on how both universities, working with the local authority, were contributing to the changing employment profile of the city.

It’s interesting to note the extent of the change to date.

For instance: In the 1960s, there were 5,000 higher education students in Sheffield and 60,000 people working in the city’s steel industry.

In 2017, there are only 4,500 working in the steel industry but the student population has grown to more than 60,000: one in 10 of Sheffield’s population.

Morgan draws out in his article the issue of whether, how and to what extent universities should be expected to contribute to local and regional economic growth and concluded: “along with the scale of the economic challenges created by South Yorkshire’s industrial decline means there is no better place in the UK to explore the possibilities and limitations of the universities’ regional impact.”

All this is true. But what possibly has been underestimated is, how over the last couple of decades, the city, through the partnerships of the major public institutions, the local authority and the private sector working together has changed the city and changed it in a different way to other northern cities.

Our partnership model between academia and the private sector is unique and for the last decade or so we have jointly developed some of the best high valued manufacturing R & D facilities in the world covering aerospace, energy and the medical sectors. In developing these R & D facilities two major spin offs have been developed and managed.

The first is the development of Factory 2050 on the Sheffield Business Park which houses the convergence of the technologies from virtual reality to robotics from 3D printing to Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) all driven by transporting knowledge digitally and translating it in to new modes of production, services and innovations.

Second, the decisions of the international Boards of Boeing and McLaren to invest in manufacturing facilities in the city. These investments will sit alongside the Rolls Royce investment on the Advanced Manufacturing Park which is one of the most advanced aerospace blade manufacturers in the world. These spin offs mark the second phase of development of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre model, when partners decide, not only to be partners in the best research and development (R &D) in the world, but start producing their products and developing their supply chain near to that R & D.

The Olympic Legacy Park (OLP) and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre is adopting the same model used by the AMRC in the world of heath and wellbeing.

Attracting investment from companies like Toshiba Medical Systems and Westfield Health and acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee, it is becoming one of the world’s leading innovation centres in Health and Wellbeing.

Again, at the heart of the AWRC innovations, is the digital transmitting of information and knowledge.

The University Technology College on the OLP, which specialises in health sciences, sports science and computing, is educating and training the workforce of the future, providing students with the new skills they need.

I have no doubts that as the OLP develops over the next few years, not only will new centres of R & D open up, but partnerships with the public and private sector will attract to the health and wellbeing sector, inward investment similar to the Boeings and McLaren in the high valued manufacturing sector.

But what is also interesting is the way the city, in its understated way, has entered the bidding process for Channel 4 to relocate out of London.

While bidding to welcome C4 to the city either in part or whole, it has given Sheffield the opportunity to draw together, again through the universities, the private sector and the local authority, a set of proposals that builds on the unique assets of the city.

Support has come from outside the city from no lesser voices than the chair of Doc/Fest, Alex Graham, one of the industry’s most respected people and backed by Lord David Puttnam who nearly a decade ago visited the new Digital Campus which is now playing, a leading role in the C4 bid.

But what caught the imagination of Alex and David along with many others, was the way the bid document brought together the creative industries, the digital sector and the universities, not only to partner with C4 but to take the communication industries into the second half of the 21 st centaury.

At the heart of the bid document is the proposal to create a ‘National Institute for Technology in Communications’.

An Institute, like Factory 2050, for the communications sector, developing the skills required to evolve digital broadcasting through disruptive technology and explore new methods of contact production and consumption, harnessing data-analytics, capitalising on social media etc. A truly forward-looking institution, harnessing the digital age.

Sheffield’s developments in manufacturing, health and wellbeing and the fast-emerging communication sector are justifying the title of ‘Digital Capital of the North’.

l Former Sports Minister Richard Caborn has signed-up to run the Great North Run (GNR) on Sunday, September 10. Richard, aged 73 will be running his 14th GNR to support the Alzheimer’s Society. To make a donation, visit