Hari Punchihewa is Deputy Chief Executive and Finance Director at the University of Derby and, as part of this role, is responsible for the estates portfolio and refurbishment projects. In this article, he outlines his vision for the city and explains what the University is already doing to help with Derby’s regeneration.
Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, claimed that we “stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” This ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is the result of the advancement of communication technology, where billions of people are connected through mobile devices, and other emerging developments such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and nanotechnology.
In the eighteenth century, Derby led the way in the Industrial Revolution that transformed Britain into a global economic superpower. We’ve been a city built on ideas ever since the world’s first modern factory, Derby Silk Mill (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), was constructed on the shores of the Derwent. Innovation is part of our identity.
As we head towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to take inspiration from our history at Derby and make sure that our city is once again equipped to lead the way. Investment is needed to ensure that Derby remains a great place to live, work in and visit.
Projects are already underway across the city. As part of the Midlands Engine Strategy, the Government announced £11 million funding to regenerate the city centre and replace the Assembly Rooms. Infinity Garden Village, on the outskirts of the city, has received ministerial backing and will provide much-needed new housing and local amenities. Toyota’s £240 million investment in its Burnaston plant is another welcome development in our city.
Derby’s heritage, ambition and potential makes it an attractive proposition for investors. At MIPIM 2017, the world’s largest property investor summit, representatives from Derby generated 31 new leads. This shows that the interest is there.
University of Derby Science Park
One of the projects unveiled at MIPIM was the University of Derby Science Park, a partnership with Derby City Council.
Our plan is to create an environment where entrepreneurs, academics and global companies can collaborate on innovative ventures to support advanced manufacturing using a combination of research, the latest equipment and digital technology. The 10-acre site is located at Infinity Park Derby, adjacent to the world headquarters of Rolls-Royce.
The University of Derby Science Park will encourage businesses and academics to commercialise world leading science and will also help to provide a stream of talented graduates equipped with the skills that employers want. Our experts will help both large companies and SMEs in the supply chain to develop skills in their workforce, access specialist equipment and enhance their R&D to improve their productivity and competitiveness.
A new development on site will provide office, studio and workshop space between 200 and 10,000 square feet, which will provide flexibility to cater to almost every business need. Companies will also have access to education and training resources, innovation labs, research centres at the University of Derby and knowledge transfer programmes. We want to foster an environment where new ideas are shared between organisations – helping each other to be globally competitive.
The first phase of the University of Derby Science Park is already underway, with the completion of the iHub building, which provides flexible workspace for SMEs hoping to establish themselves, or expand their role in the aerospace, rail and automotive supply chains. A key component of this is Enscite, a collaboration between the University of Derby, Derby City Council and Aston University. Enscite work with SMEs with an annual turnover under £50 million to create sustainable supply chains, develop their workforce, access new markets and increase productivity through new technologies. Working with companies in this way is a priority for the University of Derby, as we recently secured funding through the European Regional Development Fund to deliver a £10 million programme of innovation and business support to SMEs in the region.
We’re also working towards the official designation of a ‘University Quarter’ in Derby. This would be a vibrant social and cultural environment where students can feel confident and develop a greater sense of belonging.
At present, the majority of students leave Derby during the summer months and many of our graduates choose to begin their careers elsewhere. Developing a University Quarter would give them more opportunities to stay for longer, which would benefit the city through higher levels of spending and a boost to the local labour market. The Science Park and University Quarter proposals are part of our ongoing programme of campus improvements.
In the last few years we’ve invested over £150 million to make sure our students have access to some of the most modern facilities in the country. It’s all part of ensuring that our students leave university with the right mix of skills and experience that employers are looking for. All of our courses are designed to respond to the changing needs of industry and our campus improvement programme aims to reflect this.
Recent improvements include a new centre for Derby Law School on Friar Gate, renovated textiles facilities at Chandos Pole, new student accommodation in the city and a new sports centre at Kedleston Road. In September this year, a £12 million extension to our Markeaton Street site will open its doors to students on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses. The new 4,200 square metre facility has been specially designed to enhance teaching in our new Master of Engineering (MEng) programmes and provide upgraded facilities for electrical and electronics engineering and computer networking courses. An accessible roof space will also provide new opportunities for teaching communications technology and sustainable engineering focusing on renewable energy systems and rainwater harvesting.
Looking to the future, I believe that Derby has every reason to be optimistic. Time and again we have proved that we are adaptable and forward-thinking. But we should take care not to fall into complacency. Regeneration is about breathing new life into our city and I’m excited to see the new opportunities it will bring. One thing is for sure: the University will play a key role in building a prosperous future for Derby.