Director's blog

Moving in and moving forward - July 2020

Last week, I finally ‘moved in’ to my new office at the Health Innovation Campus. That is, I unpacked my crates and managed to personalise my space. However, the instruction is still to work from home where possible, so it will be a while before I am actually completely in. It was nevertheless an exciting moment - having watched it taking shape from drawings - to be in the finished building is a landmark moment indeed!

And what a stunning building it is - airy, light, spacious, surrounded by lovely green spaces – it certainly has the wow factor! I even had the odd curious sheep looking through my window while I was unpacking, as if to say, ‘what are you doing here on my patch?’

The building is designed as a truly collaborative space, where people from different sectors and academic disciplines can come together to work on some of the most challenging health issues we face, now and in the future. Collaboration is important to the spirit and ethos of the HIC, especially since disease does not discriminate and good health is our collective responsibility, applying equally to all sectors, communities and disciplines.

As the current pandemic has highlighted, we are all in this together and I believe the HIC - with its mission to create an effective ecosystem - has a responsibility to bring together people with complementary and diverse backgrounds to co-design solutions - be they a product, service or process. Unfortunately, our post Covid-19 world does not encourage physical collaborations so it may be some time before we are comfortable sitting in a room together to brainstorm ideas.

But we are not going to let that stop us. And whilst Coronavirus has forced us to do things differently, we have stepped up and shown tremendous resilience and endurance as a society, so let’s ensure we continue to do so towards a ‘better normal’.

There is already evidence of how we are starting to re-think societal challenges. From arid soils spring the green shoots of possibility and in fact, there has never been a more pertinent time for innovation – now is the time to challenge the status quo, to be bold.

We have started the discourse and debate around whether we will ever get back to the conventional ‘office’ as we know it. Many organisations have mandated working from home as an employee choice, here to stay. But, there will still be a need for physical office spaces, albeit not necessarily in central business districts. More people will be looking for a base nearer to home - reducing travel - with personal, environmental and societal benefits.

You know where I am going with this … the HIC ticks all these boxes. I am delighted to say that we are in the process of welcoming our first resident organisations who are keen to move in and join the HIC community. Apart from the stated obvious benefits, co-location on site is an opportunity to engage with a vibrant University community and leverage on academic expertise across different disciplines. With your involvement, we want to make a difference at scale and across boundaries.

And as we prepare to open up, we hope to be able to showcase a first example of multidisciplinary collaboration with Professor Des Fagan, from Lancaster University's Architecture department. He has developed an innovative tool to design generative distancing in response to social distancing guidelines, providing businesses with the ability to respond swiftly to changes in layout, use of space and signage. Watch this space…literally!

The atrium of the new Health Innovation One building at the Health Innovation Campus

The Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster - June 2020

As we enter what we hope is the Recovery Phase in the coronavirus crisis, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the last three months – what an extraordinary time it has been. New words and phrases have crept into our daily vocabulary: ‘relentless’ was my word of the day until I was banned from using it! Others on the same trajectory are ‘never-ending’ (I had to find a substitute for relentless!!), ‘new normal’ and teams/zoom fatigue, and yet, they so aptly describe the sentiment and mood of the moment.

But, these are nevertheless first world problems and faced with the stark choice between a pandemic and its consequences or a little bit of hardship (which it really isn’t), I know which one I would rather choose.

Crisis situations usually bring out the best in us, restoring our faith in humanity. This was evident in the way this region pulled together to support our frontline and key workers – everything from small acts of kindness and generosity to companies helping to supply/make critical equipment and PPE.

The HIC team found ourselves galvanised into action, as a conduit between our NHS / Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) partners and SMEs, fielding requests to join these up with offers of help. So overwhelming was the response from local companies, that it necessitated the creation of a web platform, almost overnight. Thus, was born the Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster for Lancashire and South Cumbria. A huge thanks to Annette Weekes (PDS Engineering), who has been instrumental in setting this up.

We now have more than 80 companies registered as part of this cluster, with diverse capabilities across a range of sectors. So what next? Reminds me of a scene from the original animated version of Jungle Book - one of my favourite films as a child - where the three vultures perched on a tree are posing that exact question. I am keen to work with our NHS/LRF partners to harness this tremendous resource as a catalyst for change – an opportunity to kick-start regional manufacturing to secure more robust and reliable supply lines for critical equipment – and better prepare the region against further outbreaks and future pandemics.

For those of you who have been following the progress of the HIC, our new building is now complete, the landscaping almost finished. We wait with anticipation as the University edges towards a phased re-opening against a backdrop of uncertainty. Whilst we are keen to move in asap, this cannot be done at the expense of safety. So, whilst we wait patiently for the green light, we are busy planning the next series of events /workshops. The aim, as always, will be to bring together our various stakeholders to help navigate our way through unchartered territory, in the pursuit of innovation, with the continuing aim of addressing health and social parity to improve life outcomes in the region.

I would like to sign off with my personal thanks to colleagues across the University, SMEs in the Covid-19 Cluster, our NHS/LRF partners and, of course, to all our key workers for their tireless and selfless efforts to keep to the region safe. Lastly but not least, my gratitude to the HIC team, who have all stepped up and been brilliant during this time.

HIC Director, Dr Sherry Kothari