Watch: Bristol 24/7 Presents: Building back fairer, greener, stronger

“When we talk about social change, we are told that the present isn’t very satisfactory, but we don’t have any inspiring visions about what a better future might look like.”

Professor Martin Parker, Director of the Inclusive Economies Institute, participated in a panel discussion to explore how we can build back better and ensure nobody gets left behind.

Covering issues such as the gender pay gap, living wage, sustainable construction practices, ethical development and much more, other panellists included: Jaya Chakrabarti MBE, CEO of tiscreport.org; Andrew Dobbs, sustainability lead for Willmott Dixon; Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare and Liam Ronan-Chlond, engagement and social value lead for First Base.

Martin said: “Part of what we need to do is create an economy that genuinely values the things that we, as human beings, value. So when we think about the economy, we should think about ways in which we engineer collective flourishing.”

Watch the discussion (starts at 19min 42secs).

 

 

 

This was the third event in the Bristol 24/7 Presents series. In addition to the panel discussion, there were also video contributions from some of Bristol 24/7’s Better Business members and leaders in the city’s non-profit sector.

Bristol’s pioneering role in quantum and deep tech research and commercialisation.

A Q&A with Mustafa Rampuri, Director of Enterprise Services, University of Bristol.

1. For those that don’t know much about you, what is your role and what is your background?

My role is to help the University of Bristol deliver on its vision to support our partners, students and staff to achieve their enterprise and entrepreneurial aspirations. This means ensuring our innovation and enterprise assets like Engine Shed, SETsquared Bristol and QTIC+ are fully enabled to help achieve extraordinary outcomes within our region.

2. What does QTIC+ do?

QTIC+ is an innovation centre which supports businesses to take deep and emergent technology to market. Our core specialisms are quantum enhanced businesses, but we also have a great track record in cybersecurity and future networks. We provide business and technical support, as well as office, meeting and breakout spaces, high quality laboratories, a hackspace for prototyping and building device technologies, and of course, great coffee.

3. Why is quantum technology so important?

Quantum technologies work in ways that are very different to classical technologies. By harnessing the properties of single particles of light or single atoms, engineers and scientists have developed a new class of technology that goes far beyond the limitations of classical physics. This allows us to measure with greater precision, sense with greater certainty, provide communication secured by the laws of physics, simulate ultra-complex interactions, and solve problems using quantum computers that would be forever out of the reach of classical machines.

4. How are quantum technologies already influencing our lives and which sectors in your view will see the biggest growth looking forwards?

The advent of quantum technology has set in motion a chain of events that are already changing technologies that we rely on. For instance, cryptography, used to secure our online lives, is moving towards being “quantum safe” to mitigate that quantum computers are becoming so powerful they will render our current encryption schemes vulnerable to attack.  Looking forwards, the applications will be incredibly broad and exciting, from pharmaceuticals to the energy sector. Specific examples could be faster drug discovery through simulation and analysis of more complex molecules or helping to reduce our carbon footprint through optimisations of complex interactions such as autonomous transportation.

5. Why is the UK one of the world’s major investors in quantum research?

The UK has invested in quantum for decades, however in 2014 the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme launched which has invested over £500m in research and technology development. The West of England Combined Authority had the foresight to coinvest and awarded the University of Bristol £35m to establish QTIC+.  The University of Bristol is today one of the world’s leading quantum centres, boasting three Nobel prize winners.

6. QTIC+ is due to move to the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus (TQEC) in 2023. What will this mean for QTIC+?

As we transition to the Temple Quarter Campus we will take the keys to new state of the art labs, a Design Factory for rapid prototyping and a suite of offices, breakout and meeting spaces. All under the same roof with University industrial partners, academics and students, creating a vibrant and creative atmosphere that will attract talented people and make a great venue for supply chain development, building new networks and drawing investors to the region.

7. How can we attract more diversity and inclusion into the quantum and deep tech sectors?

This starts by breaking out of conventional modes of working to encourage people from diverse backgrounds and from all walks of life to engage with these types of activities in a way and a format that works for them, and together with community organisations who know best how to do this for the groups they represent.  It also needs visible role models and leaders from diverse backgrounds who people can take inspiration from and who can use their influence to help level the playing field. This is not easy and establishment organisations need to do more to help address the imbalance. Importantly this isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a real business imperative. Organisations with a diverse workforce are more resilient and can attract a broader customer base. Bristol, as a city, is a great example, with over 90 languages spoken. This represents more than 90 potential export markets; it means employees who have different relationships with technology are included in the product definition allowing more versatile technologies to be created that have broader appeal.

8. How would you describe Engine Shed?

Engine Shed is one of the region’s leading organisations that support enterprise and entrepreneurship. It has a formidable track record and has consistently set the standard for support for a variety of organisations to drive inclusive economic growth in the region.

9. How is QTIC working with Engine Shed and SETsquared Bristol to support entrepreneurship and innovation in the region?

The new Enterprise Services remit brings together the University’s internationally recognised enterprise and innovation assets and programmes covering a broad range of support, networks and facilities for a wonderful mix of companies. Drawing this together enables the whole region to benefit from the investments made by regional and national government, our partners and the University over many years.  For me, I’m thrilled to be working with these extraordinary teams and I’m looking forward to creating even better services and support then before.

10. To what extent can Bristol do more for entrepreneurs?

Bristol as a region values entrepreneurship highly, however through focussed action to bring about a collective voice for the region then it will enable lines of investment to be opened. Through increased promotion of the region’s businesses and entrepreneurial talent, including better coordination of networks, increased capacity for training and skills and investment to address key market failures, the region will be well placed to thrive over the coming years.

11. How do you see the future role that universities need to have in a city economy?

Universities as anchor institutions play a vital role in regional economies; they act as attractors and producers of talent, investment and knowledge. During the pandemic, the University of Bristol has refocused on its civic mission proving that it has a role to play in supporting stimulus and economic renewal, particularly with communities in the region who would normally be overlooked, remaining in the productive margins.  The University will of course need to adapt and change continuously and its ability to do this will be the mark of success.

12. If someone is interested in exploring opportunities in quantum, who should they talk to?

If you are a high technology business looking for technical space and support we’d love to talk to you. Please visit the QTIC website and get in touch, or talk to our colleagues at Engine Shed or SETsquared who can help make an introduction.

This article was originally published by Engine Shed, as part of the Let’s Chat series. 

#CanDoStories – Widening the Circle

Professor Martin Parker, Lead for the Bristol Inclusive Economy Initiative, shares his vision for how Can Do can help connect people to make a genuine difference. 

We all know that Bristol is an extraordinary city, but it’s also a very divided one. On just about every social indicator, the north and west does better than the south and east. We have concentrations of wealth, and many very successful businesses and organizations, but we also have parts of the city where people feel cut off and left behind.

There are many different causes for this inequality, but part of the problem is the way that the city talks to itself. Though people who live here do have lots of networks and connections, many of these tend to connect within particular occupations or parts of the city. So there are conversations which link people who work at in the health services, or the universities, or with the council, with community organizations, financial services firms, the media and so on. There are no networks which connect us all, which allow everyone and every organization in the city to communicate and collaborate effectively.

If you think about it, this is quite odd. We live in a world in which most of us are now on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and WhatsApp. In some ways we have never been more connected, more entangled in flows of electronic information about our friends, football team and favourite pop star. So the idea of growing Can Do is quite a simple one. Would it be possible to use some of these technologies to connect the city in ways that make it better for all of us? Can we imagine a platform that we could all stand on?

There are lots of potential benefits if we can make this happen. Here’s a few examples. Professional services firms could offer free legal or financial help to community groups. Voluntary organizations can ask for the particular kinds of help that they need. Bristol residents can find out what is happening in their area and decide if they want to join in. Big companies can use their workforce and resources to make ‘offers’ which help to tackle the ‘asks’ from the city. The City Council can understand better who is doing what and co-ordinate their responses to different issues accordingly. Small and local businesses can see what is happening in their area of the city, and then join in if they want to help too.

The idea of an expanded Can Do is to help us all have conversations with each other, and try and use the extraordinary speed and reach of information technology to connect us in more meaningful ways. I suppose another way of saying this is to try and make the city more visible to us all. At the moment, we might be connected to our friends, neighbours and workmates, but this would be a way of constructing a bigger community of people and organizations who care about making Bristol better. Not just posting pictures of the pizza we are eating, or of a cat trying to fight a yogurt pot, but offering our time, expertise and resources to each other.

Since moving here about three years ago I have been trying to find ways in which the University of Bristol can become more engaged in helping people think about and deal with the problems they face. My university hasn’t always been particularly engaged with the city after, often perceived as perched at the top of the hill and embedded in the Clifton bubble. So how could we help? Let’s use this as an example.

If you add together the students from the University of Bristol and those from the University of the West of England, you have over 50,000 students. This is potentially an extraordinary resource for the city, but one of the problems that students face is that they don’t know enough about the city in order to get involved. An expanded Can Do Bristol could allow them to see opportunities more clearly.

If a student wants to get involved with something that relates to their subject, whether that be engineering or art, they can find some people or organizations who can use their skills. We already have a lot of students volunteering, doing paid and unpaid internships, and adding to the life of the city in so many ways, so let’s grow this, and make it easier for them to join the conversation too.

Simply widening the conversation won’t solve our problems, but it might make it easier to solve them. If we keep to our own parts of the city, if we don’t share ideas and resources across the river and across the motorway, then we will make it harder to create a fair and happy place for us all to live in. I imagine an expanded Can Do Bristol like a way of wiring the city together. Just having the wires isn’t the solution of course, because it depends what we do with them. But with the wires, we will find it easier to talk, easier to help, easier to make this into one city.

This post was originally published on the Can Do website, a platform that brings people, groups and organisations together to create positive change in their communities.

Life after COVID-19

By Professor Martin Parker, Lead for Bristol Inclusive Economy Initiative

All our lives have changed this year, because of something which is 120 billionths of a metre in size. Despite the death and suffering, and the clear evidence of inequalities, many of these changes have been positive. We will have driven and flown less, bought less, walked more, cycled more and cooked at home more. The air is cleaner and our cities are quieter. We can hear the birds, and the sky is not slashed by contrails. We might have spent more time with our families or housemates, helped neighbours or joined some mutual support or volunteering group.

Perhaps we will have done some more gardening, crafts, art or caught up on decorating or DIY. We might have read a book that we always wanted to read, or seen a film that has really made us think, and that we wouldn’t have bothered with in busier times. We will have wondered what we really need and remembered to value some very ordinary things that we miss.

Image Credit: United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

At the start of lockdown in the UK, in March 2020, I asked people I knew from academia and civil society whether they would be interested in writing short essays about the possibility of a better future after COVID. I told them that I would be requiring their contribution very soon and that I would only allow them 4000 words and very few references.

I also worried that, in the middle of the chaos, my forced optimism was tin-eared, misunderstanding the gravity of the times. I even thought about calling the book ‘covidtopia’, deliberately jarring so violently with the mood that my intention could not be mistaken. I also worried that this was a bad idea, an opportunistic excuse for another book that no-one needs, and that I should do something else instead. Like collecting shopping for elderly neighbours, or learning how to make facemasks from old tea towels.

But within a week, I had received well over twice as many offers of chapters as I needed. Other people seemed to be thinking the same as me. Lots of other people wanted to preserve something good from all this horror. Even by shrinking the chapters and growing the book, I still had to reject half of them. So imagine this book twice the size, ten times the length, with essays on changing legal structures for companies, on play, on children, on transport and holidays, on consumption and marketing, on compassion, nature, housing, meat, activism, social media, universities and a host of other topics.

It has been common to suggest that the coronavirus crisis is really just a dress rehearsal for the much bigger climate crisis to come. Moving towards a zero carbon economy will involve many of the changes that we have seen over the past few months, but it will be necessary to embed those into the structures and routines of our lives in enduring ways.

For example, if more people are working at home, then this suggests that a great deal of the office space in the centre of cities will no longer be needed. The University of Bristol has been functioning from home offices and kitchen tables across the south west since mid-March. This doesn’t mean that we won’t need workplaces, but perhaps that we won’t need to think about buildings next to car parks as the dominant model.

But what happens to city centres if we use them less? Can the empty retail and office blocks become spaces for apartments, repopulating the city centres? What sorts of transport might we need, if the 9-5 commute is no longer a routine? What sorts of housing, schooling and care might help people work successfully from home, or local workspaces? As soon as we begin to change one element of our lives, all the other assumptions need to change too. This is the opportunity that the little virus has given us. Whether we make the most of that opportunity remains to be seen.

This post was originally published on Transforming Society.

Life after COVID-19 edited by Martin Park is available to order for £7.99 on the Policy Press website.