Construction and Infrastructure

How £3.3m will help build two new job-creating innovation centres

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 05 August 2020 8:47

How £3.3m will help build two new job-creating innovation centres

Yesterday GFirst LEP dropped the happy news that £11.3 million of investment had been won to kickstart projects across Gloucestershire creating 1,000 jobs and driving the economy.  

We ran the story (you can find a link below), announcing it – in light of the current climate – as not so much a sprinkling of good news as an avalanche.  

More detail has since come out about the individual projects themselves, not least the £1.25m for a Digital Innovation Farm at Hartpury, to further enhance Gloucestershire’s position as a leader in agri-tech.

And then there is the £5.2m flagship scheme in the heart of Cheltenham town centre, known as the Minster Innovation Exchange. 

According to the borough council this will now “move forward even quicker than planned and deliver an enhanced scheme” thanks to funding of £3.114 million won by the local enterprise partnership.  

All of the funds have been secured from central Government’s £900 million nationwide ‘Getting Building Fund’ with GFirst LEP working closely with public, private and voluntary sectors to submit bids it describes as ‘shovel ready’ which would “create jobs, aid recovery and support the green agenda”.

Comments from GFirst LEP leaders accompanying press releases shedding more light on the projects reveal the thrust and direction of the LEP’s masterplan for Gloucestershire.  

David Owen, GFirst LEP’s chief executive said: “The list of projects that we are now able to fund focus heavily on the cyber, digital and agri-tech sectors, sectors that were identified in our Local Industrial Strategy as the top growth opportunities in the county.”  

GFirst LEP’s Chair Dr Diane Savory OBE said: “These projects will give Gloucestershire’s businesses and young people greater opportunities to access the very best type of tailored support that is needed now more than ever.”  

Russell Marchant, vice-chancellor and CEO of Hartpury University and principal of Hartpury College, said the Digital Innovation Farm was part of a 10-year vision at Hartpury, already under way with the construction of a £2 million Agri-Tech Centre.  

“Our plans highlight the scale of our commitment and our ambition to be leaders in shaping the future of digital farming in the UK and beyond,” said Mr Marchant.  

“Our aim is that, by 2030, the Digital Innovation Farm will have expanded and grown into a state-of-the-art complex at Hartpury attracting leading agri-tech companies and contributing to increased productivity in Gloucestershire and the UK.”

Read more: Intervention will help Gloucestershire avoid potential 49,000 job losses and £1billion-plus drop in GVA

The Digital Innovation Farm will include the National Centre for Agricultural Data Management and Interpretation, which it is said will “assist the industry in its advancement of agricultural technology, data and security”.  

All of which will be based at Hartpury’s 360-hectare campus near Gloucester.    

The ‘farm’ will be home to a new innovation and demonstration workspace for high-growth SMEs in the growth phase already operating within the agri-tech sector, to explore, test, trial, research and develop products, or enhance existing ones.  

Officially opened earlier this year by NFU President Minette Batters, the Agri-Tech Centre provides farmers, students and organisations with access to the latest commercial technology.

In Cheltenham the Minster Innovation Exchange will be near to the Grade I Listed St Mary’s Church.

The hub is the brainchild of locally based Workshop Group who is also responsible for Hub8, the cyber innovation space located in Cheltenham’s Brewery Quarter.  

According to the borough council “the scheme will repurpose an under-utilised town centre location through the delivery of 20,000 sq ft of purpose-built commercial space including flexible workspaces, a 300-person capacity performance arena, cafe, community and education space”.  

The project is said to have been “a genuine partnership with local entrepreneurs at WorkShop Group, Gloucestershire County Council and the GFirst”.  

In a statement the council said: “The scheme will host and facilitate a variety of initiatives that will have a positive economic, educational, cultural, social and environmental impact on the town as well as making improvements to the area within the adjacent grounds and help to improve connectivity and increase footfall to The Wilson art gallery and museum, the Library and the Lower High Street  

“The scheme will be delivered in a new partnership between the council and Workshop Group and will be a critical strand of Cheltenham’s and Gloucestershire’s economic recovery strategy; generating high value jobs and continuing the momentum created at Hub8 ahead of the opening of Cyber Central at Golden Valley in 2023, establishing Cheltenham as the UK’s foremost cyber tech cluster with a global reach.”

Read more: £11m plus of investment for Gloucestershire will create almost 1,000 jobs

Read more: Intervention will help Gloucestershire avoid potential 49,000 job losses and £1billion-plus drop in GVA