“Joining over 300 attendees from across industry, academia and policymaking felt like Engine Shed’s vision for delivering impact scaled up to another level.”
It’s been a busy time over the past few months as major collaborative activity really starts to power up again after the past two years. While Engine Shed has been building up to the launch of our Fintech Innovation Accelerator programme, a collaborative model to connect emerging talent and technology with industrial and societal challenge, others around the region have been busy too.
I was delighted to head to Newport earlier in March for the inaugural Western Gateway conference, ‘Green Growth in the Western Gateway’. For those who haven’t come across it, the Western Gateway is a partnership spanning South Wales and the West of England. It is supported by the full spectrum of local and regional government, enterprise partnerships and universities to deliver ‘an economic powerhouse, focused on inclusive and decarbonised economic growth’.
Having been aware of, and occasionally engaged with the Western Gateway for around two years, I have always been encouraged by the potential in this collaboration, but the conference really brought this to life for the first time. Joining over 300 attendees from across industry, academia and policymaking felt like Engine Shed’s vision for delivering impact scaled up to another level.
There were plenty of highlights, but here’s a snapshot of the focus and level of ambition in planned projects:
- The “Severn Edge” bid to bring the UK’s first prototype fusion energy plant to our area, including 30,000 jobs.
- A new independent commission to explore tidal energy in the Severn Estuary.
- The potential for the Western Gateway to become the UK’s first green energy super cluster, including being front runners of the future hydrogen economy.
- The Blue Eden project in Swansea, which combines 320MW of next-gen underwater turbines, a floating solar array, a data centre and a new high tech battery plant with the development of a new community of “eco-homes” for the people who will work there.
Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Reese caught the feeling of the room well in describing an “unapologetic level of ambition” and the sense of “pulling together as the economy really works, not based on administrative boundaries”.
From the outside, I can empathise with people who struggle to believe in projects of such scope, but from being in the room and working with those around me, I’ve not seen before this level of engagement and commitment across the organisations that could really deliver them.
Two aspects in particular feel different from large-scale industrial programmes I’ve supported in my previous career.
Firstly, the context of partnerships working cross-region and across political boundaries, along with the alignment of established industries and emerging innovation communities around clear challenge areas, should enable and empower the long-term collaboration needed to deliver.
Secondly, a shared understanding that a genuinely inclusive approach to job creation, positive local impact and enabling diverse skills is an absolute requirement for projects at this scale to succeed.
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