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Creating next-generation space for breakthrough science

Written by Stuart Grant
CEO of Harwell Science & Innovation Campus

In the world of scientific research and development, space matters. As CEO of the world-leading Harwell Campus, I am passionate about supporting innovative companies to grow in environments that help them to create tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Innovative companies are crucial to our national and local prosperity – they are engines for economic growth, create great jobs and help tackle the big societal challenges from new medicines to climate change. 

Harwell campus is already a remarkable place, with over 250 organisations and £3bn of national facilities including the UK’s (instantly recognisable UFO shaped) synchrotron, but over the last few years we have not been able to meet demand for companies who want to move here and become part of our community. Knight Frank reported that companies across the Golden Triangle are seeking 2.2 million sq. ft of lab space but only 350,000 sq. ft is available.   

Because of our unique history Harwell has space to grow and an optimistic, entrepreneurial culture of ‘Yes In Our Back Yard’. That’s why I’m delighted to announce, ‘Campus 600’, the next step in the story of this wonderful campus. We are investing £300 million to triple the amount of available lab space on campus – adding over 600,000 sq. ft (the equivalent of 2 Ellison Institutes) in the next two years.  

Given that Oxford University is spinning out more companies than anywhere else in the UK and other local universities like Cranfield are closing fast, we need to ensure we can offer the right space, environment, and home for these exciting companies to start-up, scale-up and have truly global impact.  

Some of our development will be specifically targeted at early-stage companies and spin-outs, such as Motherlabs, our accelerator offering, with a dedicated lab manager and shared services that make it easy to start-up a science business. The Co:LAB development we will create specific space dedicated to VC firms, allowing them to be closer to the companies they are investing in.  

And our flexible advanced manufacturing spaces, Zeta and Tech Foundry can house state-of-the-art equipment for companies to create new products further strengthening UK capabilities in this area. Take our members Astroscale, whose UK Ground Systems and Flight Dynamics team in the Zeus building at Harwell, (a purpose-built advanced manufacturing space) recently built the first commercial space debris inspection satellite, designed to make space more sustainable.  

For the larger organisations we’ve already started building. At the front of the campus is Moderna’s Innovation and Technology Centre which is rapidly nearing completion. Harwell was chosen for their UK base due to the critical mass of talent, expertise and ability to partner with the national research facilities and collaborate with companies in the life sciences, space, energy and quantum clusters. We’re entering a new era of medicine so being able to deliver and build cutting edge facilities for companies like Moderna is a big milestone for us and provides an important boost to the UK life sciences economy and onshore vaccine manufacturing capability.  

Alongside building state-of-the-art innovations spaces, we’re working hard to keep improving the wider campus environment. We’ve created a street food social – DiSH – outdoor meeting pods, co-working hides, outdoor art exhibits such as Spacescapes and a network of walking and running trails that our members can enjoy.  And of course we have a cricket pitch, a rugby pitch, and dozens of clubs on-site. Research has shown that stepping away from the indoor environment, can improve well-being, reduce stress and increase productivity. Together with a curated events programme of seminars, talks and member meet ups, we’ve baked in plenty of cafes, places to eat, drink and socialise, as sometimes the most brilliant ideas come from making a connection or catching up over coffee.  

We have worked closely with our community and local councils to ensure Campus 600 is driving good growth – sustainable buildings, accompanied by great art, and support for local young people to build the skills innovation needs. Reassuringly, adding R&D facilities is popular. A recent study by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) identified that expansion of R&D facilities at campuses like Harwell bring huge benefits like employment to the local community and that over two thirds of the population are supportive of new facilities for R&D in their region (the same number that would support a new school) due to these associated spill over benefits. 

Campus 600 is the next step to achieve our long-term vision of building the world’s smartest square mile, and an investment in the future of UK science, innovation and society. I can’t wait to see which world-changing organisations join our outstanding campus community.  

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