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#InTheCity Apr 18 event wrap-up | Innovation and what that means for the future of Preston

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Our second #InTheCity event was held on Thursday April 24, 2024 at Cotton Court Business Centre, where a busy room made up of our members and guests gathered to learn more about the future of innovation in Preston and the opportunities that projects like the National Cyber Force (NCF) will create.

Positive Preston

The morning began with an update from Preston Partnership board member, Ginette Unsworth, who spoke about her upbringing in Preston and how, after living away from the city, she returned because of the ‘sense of community’ and the exciting opportunities in the city.

Ginette told how the partnership recently helped form a new Preston Regeneration Board (PRB), consisting of senior leaders from UCLan, Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council and the partnership.

The PRB is still in its infancy and would not act as a decision-making board but would focus on creating a single unified voice for future regeneration projects that can feed directly into the Partnership.

Ginette said: “We want to represent your views on this board, feeding up through the partnership and getting the collective view of Preston and what the community want to see.”

There was also an update on membership uptake following the relaunch of the partnership, which has seen 165 new members join since October 2023, as well as nine strategic partners who will form part of a new strategic advisory panel, advising on future policy.

Available opportunities

We were then joined by Holly Smith, innovation consultant at Plexal, who updated us on the work she has been commissioned to complete by the partnership that will help us better understand what innovation is currently happening in Preston and what resources need to be available.

Focussing on three key areas – identifying SMEs, recommending growth areas and identifying innovation space demand – the aim of Holly’s research is to ‘unlock technological progress and cause economic growth’ in our city, allowing our ecosystem to grow and capitalise on the innovation investment in our region.

She identified 162 SMEs currently operating in Preston, 18 of which were tech focussed, and revealed that Preston has received 0.4% of project funds awarded to Lancashire by Innovate UK (roughly £7.2million).

Holly gathered feedback from our members on the current innovation support in Preston. The results showed that there are a number of facilities (Shout Connect, Society1) and programmes (Boost, Edge Hill) in place, but that uptake was relatively low, and that the majority felt that access to innovation funding or grants could be improved.

Her work is ongoing, but she provided some early recommendations which included using groups like Preston Partnership to help deliver the city’s innovation story, creating a home for innovation in the city that includes Grade A office space, and forming innovation clusters made up of likeminded businesses that can be used to attract and retain talent.

She also mentioned further opportunities to increase support for innovation led SMEs by identifying an ecosystem leader who can join up the available support avenues and create connections within the industry.

The future of innovation in Preston

Next up was our innovation panel, which included Dave Carter, honorary knowledge exchange fellow at the University of Manchester; Maya Ellis, innovation lead at Lancashire County Council; and Victoria Millsop, business development manager of cyber solutions at UCLan.

The main topic of discussion was the arrival of the National Cyber Force in early 2025, and the wave of specialist talent that will provide positive social, cultural and educational benefits to the region.

Established in 2020, the NCF is a partnership between defence and intelligence comprising GCHQ, the Ministry of Defence, MI6, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Victoria detailed the university’s involvement in securing the NCF which was put forward at a Lancashire Cyber Partnership Event last November.

This was followed by another event where the NCF spoke openly about their plans in the region and met with members of the public to get a sense of what Lancashire needs – the response was positive, with plans to do another in the near future.

Maya was asked about the upcoming devolution deal and what the council are doing to progress innovation in the region.

She said: “The council has invested “£6million to create a physical space that will enhance what the NCF are doing and attract and retain world class talent.”

She also stated that the bigger role the council plays is by facilitating organisations like the Preston Partnership to ensure everyone’s voice is heard when making decisions about the future of innovation in the city.

Dave then spoke on the arrival of the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in Manchester and how his city handled a similar situation that Preston is in right now.

He said: “The focus needed to be on facilitating GCHQ’s plans to attract local talent from business clusters and graduate schemes in order to best nurture the local economy. This can be done by forging strong relationships with universities and SMEs in the region.”

He advised that Preston should do the same by following the recommendations outlined by Holly, highlighting that a strong relationship with UCLan and local innovation centres is critical, as well a strong arts and culture scene and nighttime economy that employees and visitors can enjoy outside of working hours.

Maya moved on to discuss the connectivity between Preston and Salmesbury, and while there are no plans currently to connect the two by rail or tram network, Lancashire County Council are pushing for a membership-based hub near the train station that would provide its employees and visitors with an alternative and more accessible place to visit, work and hold meetings.

Dates for your diary

Ginette closed off the event by reminding our guests about the benefits of joining the partnership, encouraging them to become part of a growing movement to drive Preston forward.

She also shared details of the next #InTheCity event, which will focus on working in Preston, taking place on Thursday July 11 at OneCoWork, in Winckley Square, Preston.

Ginette reminded guests that members of the Preston Partnership board will be attending the UK’s Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF), from 21 to 23 May in Leeds.

As well as having a stand, our chair John Chesworth be taking part in the ‘Fuelling Lancashire’s Future’ panel debate, which promises insights into the collaborative potential among the private sector, public sector, and universities in Lancashire to foster more opportunities and drive sustainable growth.

The debate will take place at The Cinema Stage Royal Armouries on Wednesday 22 May at 2:15pm.

For further information on our events programme, visit www.prestonpartnership.org/news-and-events/.

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