"We have the talent, assets and vision to make our region one of the most successful"

We are just over a week into 2020 and I am sure I’m not the only person wondering what the next ten years will bring for our city and region.

Thursday, 9th January 2020, 2:42 pm
Children at Hunters Bar Infant school finish their Green Wall Garden project, which was in collaboration with the university
Children at Hunters Bar Infant school finish their Green Wall Garden project, which was in collaboration with the university

Of course, I hope the 2020s will be a time of growth and prosperity, bringing the much-needed investment, growth in productivity and improvements in infrastructure that will benefit the people who live, work and study here. But we cannot wait and simply hope that this will happen - the government and leaders in the region must work with partners to ensure this decade sees our City Region unleash its full potential.

During the December general election campaign, people in the North once again sent a clear message that they want investment in our towns and cities; that they want capability and resource. It is time for the government to think outside the ‘London bubble’ and to act to narrow the economic, social and health inequalities between this region and the south.

We also need to drive forward the devolution agenda. We have seen pockets of opportunity emerge across Manchester, Birmingham and other areas - and it is vital that we unlock these opportunities in the Sheffield City Region.

As a leading civic university, deeply rooted in our city, the University of Sheffield has an important role to play in securing prosperity for the region. In the years ahead, we will continue to support the growth and competitiveness of the city through world-class research. We will use our scientific and technological developments to drive innovation and produce outstanding graduates who bring fresh talent and ideas to the region’s businesses. It is a responsibility we take very seriously.

We want our research to deliver deep, transformational impact across the world – and this very much begins at home, with many of our academics sharing their knowledge and collaborating to improve the lives of people in our community.

For example, last year PhD student María del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez, from our Department of Landscape Architecture, started working with Hunters Bar Infant School to build an innovative green barrier of plants around their playground to reduce air pollution. This project, funded by our Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, has been a truly collaborative effort involving the school, the University and many local businesses. We hope it sets an example that will encourage other schools to install similar living screens in the future.

Our students and graduates also make a direct contribution to the city region - from running after-school clubs for children, to social enterprises that provide work opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness or trafficking. In our city centre, the Foodhall project, designed by three former Sheffield students to create inclusive communities and minimise food waste, is an example of what can be achieved with the right vision and energy.

Our University allows the region’s businesses to access world-leading facilities and academic expertise to find solutions to challenges. Last year, the Sheffield Innovation Programme - which has seen more than 200 academics from both of Sheffield’s universities work with more than 300 companies - has helped businesses in the region to engage in a large number of collaborative projects. The innovative and award-winning RISE scheme (a partnership involving both Sheffield universities), also secured European funding to help more businesses across the City Region recruit talented graduates; more than 500 businesses have benefited so far, and we look forward to supporting many more.

We want our city region, and the north of England, to be embraced as the beating heart of UK innovation and industry. Our University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre shows what can be achieved when industry and academia work together, and has been a powerful magnet for inward investment from global companies like Boeing and Rolls-Royce as well as smaller local employers critical to supply chains. During last year’s Conservative Party leadership contest, I urged any future Prime Minister to ensure the momentum of developments in the north is not only maintained, but accelerated - and I renew this call.

We have the talent, assets and vision to make our region one of the most successful and, as we begin a new decade, the University of Sheffield is committed to supporting elected leaders and working in collaboration to ensure we unlock this tremendous potential.

This column was written by Professor Koen Lamberts, president and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield