Gavin Poole, CEO of Here East, discusses how the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is fast becoming London’s testing ground for innovation
London needs cross-sector collaboration to become an innovation leader – and there is an area in London which is trying to do exactly that.
Nestled between Newham and Hackney the area now known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has undergone a momumental transformation over the past few years. Chosen as the place to host London’s 2012 Olympic Games, the area has worked to transform itself into London’s testing ground for innovation, and it does this by focussing on collaboration.
Back in 2012 the Games brought a wealth of investment into the area, shining a spotlight on East London from across the globe and providing an international outlook. Post-games, work began to turn the district into a place which kept the legacy alive, but had a focus on tech and collaboration. The vison to create a place which encouraged new businesses to move to the area and to involve them with the other buisnesses and the local community – creating a sandbox for innovative trials and testing.
What has emerged over the past few years are clusters of businesses working together with a desire to share skills and ideas. For example, there are currently several companies and institutions who are working across sectors to push forward new technologies in mobility. Based in London’s innovation campus Here East, organisations such as Bird, Ford Smart Mobility and two leading universities – UCL and Loughborough University London are collaborating alongside The Advanced Propulsion Centre in Stratford. They have come together to create smart solutions for the future, utilising the vast amount of skills, knowledge and passion people within these institutions hold.
However, in order for cross-sector collaboration to work there needs to be a place for these companies to congregate and share ideas. A supercampus structure provides the perfect environment for this, and provides a vast amount of space for global companies, scale-ups, academic insitutions and artists to come together. London’s supercampus, Here East, is based in what was the Press and Broadcast Centres for the Olympics and is home to a diverse community of tenants, and in addition to this, it has an innovation centre – Plexal. Plexal is home to over 122 businesses which employ over 600 people, and provides a space for cross-sector partnerships, bringing together companies which are always looking for ways to work together and disrupt their sectors.
What makes an innovation campus work is the careful curation of companies that reside there: they have to have collaboration at the forefront of what they do, and not only within the confines of the campus but in the local communities as well. Passionate people who are working to solve real world problems and harness new technologies can be found everywhere, but sometimes you need to help provide an extra push to ensure that a spotlight gets shone on it. Here East is not the only thing happening in the area – East Bank is a £1.1bn redevelopment which will see institutions such as the V&A East project, Smithsonian Institute, Sadler’s Wells, London College of Fashion and the BBC take residence in the area. The presence of these historical institutions in Hackney and Newham demonstrates the desire of established and prestigious organisations to be involved in this vibrant community. This is one of the reasons that the ground-breaking pilot of Bird’s electric scooters happened across Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and not another part of London. This was the first time electric scooters have been used in the UK on this scale and continues to be an outstanding success.
Curating a diverse community that is reflective of London’s expansion within the business and educational landscape will provide a boost in the economy by bringing new jobs and opportunities to the area.
Despite the uncertaintly of Brexit, London has an opportunity to ensure that it becomes a leader in innovation. It is now more important than ever to demonstrate the international ambitions for London and we need to place more emphasis on how companies can come together to collaborate with each other. When it comes to driving progress across all sectors including mobility, robotics and health tech culture, a multifaceted approach is necessary. It requires academics working with coders, artists working alongside technicians and community leaders working alongside global corporatations. Collaboration has always been important when talking about innovation, and for London to take the lead in this area then it need only look to the East for an example of how to do it.