Director's blog

Office of the future - April 2021

Thanks in part to Britain’s amazing vaccination drive, COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have started to ease over the past month and it has been interesting to see how members of the public have reacted to the new freedoms on offer.

While some have been desperate to get out and attempt to resume regular life as quickly as possible, others have been more circumspect in their approach - preferring to wait and see how things progress before taking those first hesitant steps towards normality.

And while this lack of certainty is a feature of the pandemic that we will have to continue to live with, many organisations are deep into planning how their businesses will operate as we slowly move out of crisis mode and towards a more sustainable way of working. This will clearly be a delicate process as companies try to navigate ways to accommodate different requirements and levels of comfort. The pandemic has been a game-changer when it comes to flexible working and is likely to result in a significant long-term shift in working practices.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute analysed the potential for continued remote working across more than 2,000 tasks from some 800 occupations in eight focus countries, including China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the UK and the United States.

Looking at roles and tasks where remote working would not lead to loss of productivity, they found that around 20 to 25 per cent of the workforce in advanced economies could potentially work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic and, they believe, could prompt a large change in the geography of work as individuals and companies move out of large cities into suburbs and small cities.

In fact, several reports suggest that productivity has increased. Communication appears to have become more inclusive, fostering greater collaboration and flatter organisational structures. Yet, there will always be a need for physical work places and interaction. Remote working doesn’t suit everyone or indeed all circumstances. Some things are simply better done in person – negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback and onboarding new employees - are examples of activities which may lose some effectiveness when done remotely.

As many of you who have followed our journey will know, the concept for the Health Innovation Campus was a fairly simple one. Even before a brick was laid, the University recognised that many of the world’s most significant health challenges could not be tackled by medical and clinical disciplines alone. There are a great many factors that affect our health and yet our systems are set up to treat those who are sick rather than promote general physical and mental wellbeing.

So, the Health Innovation Campus was designed to create a space where diverse stakeholders were able to come together to take an integrated approach to improving health outcomes.

While my team has been deeply immersed in this work for a number of years, our new Health Innovation One building – which was completed in summer 2020 – was to be a catalyst for this.

As we and others move towards a hybrid model, what does this mean for the office space? Just this week, there was an article in the news suggesting that many empty office blocks in London might be converted into residential space. Are we likely to see a similar scenario play out across different cities and towns?

The ‘office’ is not dead – instead, we simply need a fresh approach and to re-frame what this means. There will still be a need for people to come together and connect, share values and aspirations. A shared office space allows people to develop their professional identity.

So, in reimagining traditional working practices and spaces, flexibility and balance will be key. Developing new organisational cultures as people return to the ‘new normal’ will require these. We will need new leadership styles, with an emphasis on trust and empowerment, that allows employees the freedom to work out how best to meet targets rather than hours worked. This will also require leaders to communicate more frequently and purposefully.

Over the last few years, we have seen the emergence of co-working spaces and this is likely to increase now. We might be looking at linked nodes of small and flexible office spaces scattered across geographic regions, providing many benefits including more meaningful interactions and diversity. The Health Innovation Campus is ideally positioned to offer the flexibility and interactive space that is likely to be the mainstay of our new workplace future.

So we are thankful that the restrictions are being lifted and we can begin cautiously looking at the best way to resume in-person meetings and collaborations. I’m sure you do not need me to tell you that opening a hub for collaborative innovation during a global pandemic has had its challenges. And although we were able to move much of our work online, we have missed the chance to use our new building to bring project groups together to try to create lightning in a bottle.

City of London

Leading - March 2021

As a society, during this last year we have been forced to review aspects of our life through a different lens. We have pontificated on many things, personally and collectively.

With morale at an all-time low, especially within the NHS, recruitment and retention of staff is a significant challenge. The NHS is facing a workforce mental health crisis, with large numbers suggesting they are keen to leave the organisation due to work pressures. It would seem therefore, that in addition to all the support mechanisms that we put in place, if ever there was a time to focus on the power of leadership to effect change this must be it?

Much has been written by leadership by those far more qualified than I and so, this is not an essay on leadership, but rather my own observations on some of the hallmarks of good, (great) leadership I have observed.

Good leadership is borne out of deep self-reflection and questioning values and assumptions, all the more important during times of adversity. Having a strong set of values and being principled are key to leading with integrity, something a good leader should never lose sight of.

Leadership is inextricably linked with culture, providing a frame of reference and understanding of the norms, assumptions, behaviours that shape society and the workplace. It is this ‘understanding’ that has led to an evolution in leadership style, where we now focus on emotional intelligence and communication skills. The ability to genuinely engage others, often undervalued as a skill, is therefore critical.

Empathy is now recognised as one of the most important leadership qualities and the more senior the leader, the more important it becomes. In a leader, empathy or emotional intelligence, is thought to be twice as important as IQ. Empathy requires a leader to listen, without necessarily expounding their own views. In a former life, I was fortunate enough to work with a leader who made it a point to always be the last person to speak in meetings, ensuring that all views were considered in an open and transparent manner. This was very empowering.

Many organisational leaders are far too goal oriented, despite maintaining their staff are their greatest asset. An empathetic leader makes a point of connecting with the people they lead. This allows them to build meaningful relationships which can in turn be used to shape the culture of the organisation. This also helps to break down hierarchies, which can often inculcate long-held cultural beliefs. A collegiate style generally builds the best teams.

The one leadership quality that I believe sets apart a good leader from a truly great leader is the ability to adapt. To have the capacity to adapt, a leader must genuinely listen, empathise and engage. However, they must also be able to contextualise, put a situation into perspective, make their own judgement and remain steadfast in their conviction.

We hear a lot about agile thinking and agile systems and like many oft-used phrases, we are in danger of these becoming merely buzzwords. To be agile, we must be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and interrogate assumptions and biases.

Let’s take, for example, ingroup bias. While it is human nature to have an inner circle of trusted colleagues, consulting beyond the abilities of this immediate group can often lead to better, more creative solutions, particularly in times of crisis. The Gambler’s Fallacy, putting too much weight on past events and believing this will influence future outcomes, is another trap many leaders often fall into. Courageous leadership requires us to embrace differences rather than continually perpetuate group thinking.

Thankfully, we are largely on track with finding a leadership style that has evolved considerably from those earlier connotations of military operations or ruddy-faced men in pinstripe suits barking orders at intimidated workers. Two terms we increasingly hear around leadership are transformational and compassionate.

Both these have much in common. They suggest empathy, a shared sense of values and understanding, working towards common goals, sharing in successes as well as failures and allowing people the flexibility to fail and, importantly, being human – not being afraid to share your personal stories or show vulnerability.

As with many things, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought discourse on compassionate leadership to the fore. Leadership goes hand-in-hand with workplace culture and many forward-thinking organisations already had employee-friendly benefits such as flexible working patterns in place. This ‘remote leadership’ necessitates understanding, compassion and trust and we have all had to swiftly pivot towards this.

Leadership was discussed in detail at our last Health Partnerships Group meeting and, as a result, we have set up a compassionate leadership working group with NHS colleagues and Professor Jane O'Brien from Lancaster Management School. We are also very fortunate to have working with us, Mike West CBE - Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund and Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Lancaster University - who has spoken extensively on compassionate and inclusive leadership and why it matters even more in a time of national and global crisis.

Continuing on the leadership theme, we also have the next cohort of our Health Innovation Programme beginning on 28 April, led by our ERDF-funded business support project and Lancaster Management School. This fully-funded programme, aimed at Lancashire SMEs provides an opportunity for them to work with leading business transformation experts to consider their own business challenges and discuss innovation and improvement. Delegates are expected to attend with an open mind and will be challenged to think differently about their goals and ambitions, to gain a fresh perspective while outside their work bubble.

Their skills and experience will then form part of a collective peer-group knowledge base, where ideas can be tested and problems worked through - during and after the six-day programme - in a fun and supportive environment. The online sessions are designed to ultimately drive the development of new products, processes or services in health, care and wellbeing - so are aimed at innovative leaders looking to expand or diversify into these sectors.

Get in touch by emailing HIC@lancaster.ac.uk if you fit the bill.

Leading the way

Roll on 2021 - December/January 2021

I hope you have all had a restful and well-earned break over the festive season. As we look forward to what will hopefully be a better year for us all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a fulfilling, happier and healthier 2021.

Whilst this is not quite the start we anticipated, the roll out of the vaccination programme provides much needed optimism. I am delighted that the Health Innovation Campus was able to support this mammoth effort by becoming the site for Lancaster’s first COVID-19 vaccination centre in December, in partnership with Lancaster and Queen Square Medical Practices.

We had the first cohort of over-80s queuing (in a socially distanced manner, of course) around the Health Innovation One building last month to receive their initial dose of the vaccination, providing an almost carnival-like atmosphere during these bleak times. Being in the room following the delivery of the first batches of the vaccine felt momentous and the sense of hope amongst medical staff and patients has been palpable.

The whole programme was put in place at great speed and as is usually the way with these things, there was a real concerted effort from many people, working hard behind the scenes, towards seamless and successful delivery. Particular thanks would have to go to members of my team, the Faculty of Health & Medicine, and others from across the University, especially, the Estates team.

Despite a somewhat muted start to the year, I was fortunate enough to spend my first week back on InnovateUK’s biomedical catalyst panel. It was uplifting to see the diligence and tenacity of our biomedical research and SME communities as they continue to focus on providing solutions to a whole range of health challenges.

Here at the HIC, planning is already underway for an interesting programme of activities – sessions on food innovation, the launch of an exciting joint initiative with our Management School on Health Futures and a series of workshops on evaluation – as well as the return of our regular Health Partnership Group meetings.

Roll on 2021!

HIC vaccination clinic

What's in a word? - November 2020

In this blog, I want to focus on the word ‘innovation’ and share some simple observations. I am sure many will agree that the word is now so overused that not only does it lose its meaning, but it also means different things to different people. One can google ‘innovation’ and get as many definitions as there are experts.

I believe the simple truth is that innovation is a chaotic process – a series of events, often unplanned and reliant on serendipity, luck and failure.

For me, an innovation can only be defined as successful if it is timely, adds value, is adopted and is scalable. So, what does this mean for the Health Innovation Campus? The HIC’s mission is to act as a beacon that facilitates the chaotic process that is innovation – by bringing together folk who wouldn’t normally come together, by being open to new ideas, by having the agility and flexibility to respond to unforeseen challenges – we will make innovation happen, because it is not one single eureka moment.

COVID-19 has thrown up some new challenges for us as a society, but these are also opportunities to learn from, and respond to, by doing things differently and/or better.

For example, the concept of social distancing, virtually unheard of this time last year, is now ubiquitous. And yet, we see images almost every day, all across the globe, of people failing to comply and governments struggling with making guidelines that people adhere to.

One innovative approach, designed by colleagues in the School of Architecture, builds bespoke systems which can be responsive in real time to changing guidelines - a model which we are currently showcasing in the HIC. Using algorithms, special design exploration processes, generative software, sympathetic signage, electronically created floorplans and heat tracking and mapping, the system is an ideal tool for businesses that need to generate COVID-19-safe layout plan. It was originally trialled at The Storey earlier this year, through a partnership with the city council.

Another opportunity arising out of the COVID-19 crisis is the work we are doing, again in collaboration with Lancaster City Council, to evaluate the activities of the third sector during the pandemic and better understand what and how these have been different in response to the pandemic. These will then be used to inform future pandemic response. The importance of this work also lies in our ability to compare, contrast and share outcomes with other regions to inform national modelling.

Linked to this is another interesting and innovative initiative we are working on, led by Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS’ Integrated Voluntary Services Project and involving a number of stakeholders, to turn volunteering work into rewarding careers in health and social care. Attracting a wide range of professionals from the NHS, local authority, schools, careers services, business and the voluntary sector, the work will capture the amazing volunteering efforts of people during the pandemic, to develop a pathway that will harness their skills for the future.

Innovation, however, isn’t just about responding to the unpredictable. It is also about flexibility. So, although the emphasis over the last few months has largely been on COVID-relevant projects, we continue with many of our planned activities, albeit somewhat differently. Our fully-funded business support programme has maintained its activities for local businesses throughout, showing remarkable agility in developing innovative ways to deliver immersive workshops that respond directly to changing business needs.

Future sessions, informed by unmet needs and priorities, include food innovation, dementia, design of healthy buildings and spaces, mental wellbeing in the workplace, environmental impact on health, health marketing and education. Plenty going on, a lot to look forward to!

And on that upbeat note, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the HIC team on their resilience and commitment. It is a testament to their hard work and can-do approach that we are involved in so many exciting activities.

Finally to wrap up, one further feature of innovation that I haven’t touched upon is what happens when these initiatives are finally adopted and what different groups may choose to do with them. I am sure we can all think of examples where an innovation has led to an unforeseen or unintended use, generally good, but occasionally to our detriment. Let’s hope we have cause to celebrate when we look back on some of our work and its impact.

We know keeping apart isn't easy, but you're doing a great job. Thank you.

Changing times - October 2020

The changing of the seasons always brings with it a feeling of renewal and reset, and at no time is this more evident than in autumn - when the vivid green palette of summer is replaced by blazing reds and browns and each new step is accompanied by the ubiquitous crackle of fallen leaves crunching underfoot - occasionally interspersed with sodden, slippery steps!

This last month, I have noticed a strong desire amongst our many collaborators to reappraise current approaches and look at doing things differently. If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that where there is a desire to bring about positive change quickly – and on a large scale – it can be done. Seemingly insurmountable barriers have proven to be paper tigers amidst a crisis that has necessitated rapid reviews of long-standing systems, procedures and behaviours.

This shift in attitude is something we should embrace as we inch towards a post-Covid world and, perhaps fittingly, Lancashire - the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution - seems ready to take up the challenge and lead the charge.

Many moons ago, in a different life, I published a paper on culture change. Whilst the focus of that particular literary effort was on universities, much of it can be applied to the settings we find ourselves in today. I am no expert on the subject, but culture – our assumptions, beliefs, values and experiences – is so intrinsically important and underpins how we behave, respond to change and adapt. This has been a recurring theme in several conversations I have had in the last month

One such dialogue took place when I was invited onto a panel on food innovation as part of the Lancashire Innovation Festival. The discourse covered everything from ‘buying local’, access to affordable, healthy food, sustainability in production and packaging, to raising awareness of nutrition and health. And while we all intuitively know what needs to be done - and there are numerous trailblazing organisations achieving remarkable results – one way to effect lasting change is to reimagine current systems.

Using technology to reimagine the future is at the heart of the new Future Places Centre at Lancaster University, a £6.8m UKRI-funded initiative. Building on the University’s pioneering research in ‘pervasive computing’, artificial intelligence, the natural environment and data science, the Centre will explore new ways to deliver sustainable and healthier outcomes.

The need for a paradigm shift in culture was also acknowledged at a recent discussion on Blackpool’s Digital Strategy I was invited to attend. Blackpool has been at the forefront of technological innovation throughout its history. Before Edison or Swan had patented the light bulb, Blackpool was experimenting with street lighting with the first Illuminations display in 1879. The recent subsea fibre optic cable, the North Atlantic Loop, connects America and Europe via Blackpool and the town now boasts a faster connection to the New York Stock Exchange than London. Harnessing the opportunities this presents will, in part, be contingent on understanding the drivers, challenges, disparities, motivating factors and barriers to change within the communities in Blackpool.

And yet, we spend relatively little time, effort and resources on doing this properly. Why? I suspect the answer is not simple, but I can have a guess – culture is a hard thing to tackle, takes too long, requires significant resource and perhaps, there is an element of being ‘stuck’ in long-standing cultural norms – but that should not stop us from trying and questioning assumptions.

What is encouraging about some of the above discussions is firstly, the acknowledgement that culture is important and, secondly, the sense of optimism that, collectively, we can change things. Let’s not underestimate the impact of good, strong leadership. An inspiring leader will set the tone and risk appetite, encourage the bold and big and embrace failure. Understanding certain behavioural patterns, motivating factors and barriers to change will allow us to start the process of change. After all, cultural change does not happen overnight – it is a seep, not sweep, effect.

An autumnal scene

Ups and downs - September 2020

What a rollercoaster of a year this is turning out to be. Just when we thought we could dare to breathe a collective sigh of relief, it is all change yet again. Whilst inevitable and largely predicted, it is nevertheless going to require even greater resolve than we have showed so far to get through this next uncertain period. Needs must, so we continue to adapt, create and innovate.

Let’s face it, we have already achieved things we couldn’t have imagined, in timescales we would have thought impossible. With the exception of our younger generations, many of us are digital migrants. Yet, we have totally embraced new platforms and are now working and communicating almost entirely remotely. From online teaching in schools and universities to phone and video consultations for a plethora of health conditions, Teams and Zoom now perforate our psyche daily. Behavioural changes abound – where before one made sure one had one’s wallet/purse before stepping out, now that same importance is given to the face mask. We no longer bat an eyelid at having to socially distance or sit in a restaurant surrounded by screens! Hand sanitisation has become second nature for most of us. Difficult as it may be, we should focus on how well we are coping on the whole, think about those less fortunate and appreciate the efforts of all those around us who are doing their part in helping society get through (the alternative is too depressing).

Closer to home, our new building – Health Innovation One – has been partially retrofitted to create teaching areas to accommodate socially-distanced small group teaching for our medical students. We also have a number of co-locating businesses raring to move into their new offices on site.

Our new ‘Leading Health Innovation’ Programme launched online in September with the first cohort of businesses. Designed with Lancaster University Management School, the programme supports businesses to develop their capacity to innovate and lead change and equips them with design thinking tools and approaches to idea generation in response to market needs. An added bonus is the establishment of a supportive peer network, something we cannot underestimate during these difficult times.

We also attended our first post-lockdown event, the Lancaster Health Festival, where – by the power of Zoom - we provided a virtual tour of the new building and allowed a glimpse of the collaborative spaces and opportunities the HIC embodies.

I have even been back on the radio, (grimacing emoji at the thought of listening to my own voice over the airwaves), having given BBC Lancashire a tour of the new facilities and spoken to them about our ambitions to work with a wide mix of stakeholders on making our region a healthier place.

Talking of healthy places, the HIC is embarking on an exciting collaboration with the Institute of Social Futures on the new Future Places Centre (FPC). The FPC will focus on the impact of how technology will allow us to reimagine our spaces and places. An ambitious programme, it will explore three domains of impact: the natural environment, the built environment and changing health outcomes.

We are already working with Lancaster City Council, in collaboration with Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS and Lancaster and District Community Voluntary Services, to capture the volunteer response to Covid-19 and how lessons learnt may inform future pandemic planning. Discussions are underway with other local authorities who are also keen to evaluate the ‘lessons learnt’ from the last six months and how these might help deliver future best practice.

In the meantime - as we face a second Covid spike, further restrictions and more uncertainty - let’s hunker down as the Scandinavians do and embrace Hygge moments. I, for one, have been desperately trying to spot the aurora these least few evenings as my phone keeps pinging with amber alerts for geomagnetic activity. Simple pleasures!

The Northern Lights

Opening up - August 2020

Today, we throw open our doors for a new academic year, a new season, new students, new tenants - and herald a new phase in the development of the strategically-important project that is the Health Innovation Campus.

The HIC’s mission is to take a solution-led, place-based approach to addressing the significant health and social inequalities which impact on wellbeing, with an emphasis on innovative thinking, disruption, co-design and co-production.

As Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "a building is not just a place to be, but a way to be". And so I hope the culture we create at the HIC will embody collaboration and inspire innovation. Although we have had to delay our planned opening due to Covid-19, it is fortuitous that in these times of viral strife the building ideally lends itself to social distancing and is therefore a space we can optimise and continue to use.

And that particular challenge provides a great segue to one of our first showcase opportunities - a unique, automated, social distancing and way-finding model for businesses preparing to re-open safely during the post-pandemic recovery.

The new model, devised by colleagues in the School of Architecture, uses algorithms, special design exploration processes, generative software, sympathetic signage, electronically-created floorplans and heat tracking and mapping to inspire a safe environment for people.

This is a great, solution-led example of innovation and a scale-up opportunity. With social distancing here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, the project is based on the premise that changing public perception from immediate ‘danger’ to a more permanent ‘wellbeing’ lifestyle could be a positive evolution of social distancing wayfinding, as well as paving the way for responding rapidly to similar scenarios in the future.

Although our doors are open, our priority remains to provide a welcoming and safe environment for our occupants – students, staff and tenants – whilst maintaining social distancing guidelines. While some teaching is now being delivered in our Health Innovation One building, other activities will come on-line as circumstances allow.

Where possible, we continue to work from home and unfortunately those Teams and Zoom calls still dominate the day. All the more reason to remember that the primary objective of all those meetings is to have an engaged conversation and not just simply fill up one’s Outlook calendar! It is essential we find time to look after ourselves and each other – good mental and physical health is our collective responsibility – and there has never been a more critical or opportune moment to focus on this.

Our new campus will live by its values and is an entirely smoke-free zone - which I hope will be respected by all. Green spaces abound for those moments where one just needs to ‘switch off’, stare into the distance, get some fresh air or simply be at one with nature. Plenty of shrubs and trees provide a wildlife haven and offer cooling shade, on the odd occasion the sun decides to shine. We have also planted a line of Silver Birch around the Health Innovation Campus - which Lancaster academic Professor Barbara Maher has identified as the optimal tree for cleaning particulate pollutants from the air.

The HIVE, our new on-site café, offers a menu focussed on fresh food and healthier options. But should one feel the desperate need for a Greggs or chocolate fix, the cycle path and walkways around the site offer an opportunity for a brisk cycle or walk to the main campus and back, to burn off those calories.

Let’s start as we mean to go on! I leave you with a quote by Seth Godin, "Change almost never fails because it's too early. It almost always fails because it's too late".

The new Health Innovation One building at the Health Innovation Campus

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