A note from the Director: Stitched up – in a good way!

That’s been an eventful fortnight – but then it’s been an eventful few years: Engine Shed will be 4 years old on 2nd December!

When we opened Engine Shed in 2013, I could not have dreamt that we would be securing planning consent for a larger Engine Shed 2, within 4 years, but then 2 years ago I could have believed that we’d be moving in by now! That’s something we have had to get used to, within the fabulous Engine Shed team: frequent bursts of excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism – and then we have to deliver them. When things are in our control we can generally deliver on time, but of course, when others are calling the shots and things slow down, we get impatient for action. I’ll continue to work on the basis that the right role for us is to be impatient – to help move things forward quicker than they would otherwise. Garnering support for our planning application, in the couple of days before the committee, are testament to that.

We were worried by the recommendation by planning officers, that the elected members of the planning committee should reject the application by Skanska for ES2 – but we were delighted that a mixture of general ambition for the city and a belief in the work and profile that Engine Shed has achieved, caused the members to push the application through. We are very grateful, and encouraged, as this means we can move forward with our plans. That planning application is not out of the woods yet – the Secretary of State has the right to intervene because of the officers’ recommendation for refusal, but speaking to the said minister when he was here last week, launching his new housing policy, I think it’s fair to say that he is supportive of what we’re doing. Hopefully that one will be nicely stitched up shortly.

Talking of stitching things together, I attended a roundtable at Downing Street last week, one of 13 people from around the country (well, 6 of us were from outside London) to meet the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Secretary of State for DCMS about how to stitch together the regional tech clusters to make a vibrant and robust environment for technology startups and scale-ups. I made the point in that meeting that the regions were strong and richly diverse, so a bespoke solution was required. Bristol was, following the roundtable, announced as one of the regions to be included in the initial phase of a ‘TechNation’ programme – so perhaps I got that one stitched up as well. We’ll see.

Also, this month, Engine Shed has been case studied as an exemplar in the Annual ScaleUp Review, from the UK ScaleUp Institute, specifically recognised for taking a different approach to stitching together bits of the local ecosystem in perhaps a more holistic way than is being done elsewhere. I hope we’re doing the right thing.

Last week also saw the finalising of plans for our ‘super project’ for supporting a Diverse Workforce of the Future, with a programme of DigiLocal activities around the region and the Engine Shed Bus on Tour, visiting schools and youth clubs across West of England, taking some of our entrepreneurial stories out to young people and giving them access so of the latest technology and methods for creating great content. These will launch in the New Year.

If all of that is a reflection on the first four years of Engine Shed, then I’m pleased. The future is looking really exciting for Bristol & Bath and I hope that we are able to continue to play a role in joining up the dots, locally and nationally and demonstrate that the Bristol & Bath region has plenty to offer.

  • Something that we have always strived to promote, is the importance of trust-based relationships, and I think Bristol & Bath is really special in that trust tends to pervade and inform new collaborations. This week will see the budget and, possibly, the launch of the Industrial Strategy (in which we’re due to be featured), so I expect to see a number of opportunities for this area that, if built on, and trusting of, the right relationships and acknowledge the strengths of different actors in the ecosystem, then we (the region) will get the positive investment that we need and the recognition we deserve.