BIG South London

Key BIG South London stakeholders gathered together last week to celebrate the impact of the programme over the last three years.

From delivering 7,000 sqm of commercial floor space across ten new workspaces to supporting over 700 South London businesses and creating 100 new business and higher education collaborations, the programme has had a significant economic and social impact on the region. This has led to the creation of 80 new products and services, 800 new jobs, and £30m Gross Value Added (GVA) for the local economy.

The programme was launched in 2021 by local authorities in the South London Partnership area, funded by the City of London Strategic Investment Pot, in recognition that businesses in the region needed support to return to pre-pandemic economic activity levels.The aim was to enable businesses and the charity sector to tap into the wealth of expertise and facilities available at South London’s universities and further education colleges to develop new products and services, open up new avenues for growth, and create higher-value jobs. New affordable, flexible workspaces were also planned in the five Boroughs served by BIG South London (Croydon, Kingston Upon Thames, Merton, Richmond Upon Thames and Sutton).

Mike Jackson, Chief Executive of Richmond Upon Thames Borough Council, spoke at the event: “The BIG South London initiative was set up to address three innovation challenges: increasing productivity, improving engagement between business and our higher education partners, and addressing the lack of affordable workspace. Three years on, it’s great to see these ambitions realised and more. It’s an example of what can be achieved in South London if all parties come together with a shared goal. BIG South London is a collaboration of 13 universities and further education colleges, and it’s fantastic that these institutions attach such a high priority to supporting South London’s economic, social, and environmental health.”

Ted Vallance, Director of Research and Doctoral Study at the University of Roehampton, continued: “Being part of BIG South London has shaped our institutional mission and strategy in important ways. It has enabled us to sharpen our focus on community engagement and helped our researchers to reach out successfully to our local communities, organisations, and businesses. Our experience as part of BIG South London has taught us that we’re better when we work in partnership, and through BIG supported initiatives, we’ve been able to strengthen our links with other universities, local government, and the NHS. We look forward to continuing this work, particularly in our upcoming I-CAN project, which will support care leavers into the local NHS workforce.”

The event was hosted at Patch in Twickenham, one of the ten co-working spaces funded through the BIG South London programme.

Freddie Fforde, Founder of Patch, said: “Our whole vision is based around ‘work near home’, and it’s not just about creating a physical workspace. We want to be a lighthouse for local life by bringing people together and breathing life back into our communities. By creating workspaces on local high streets and providing an alternative to commuting, we help people balance their mental and physical health and be closer to their families while also supporting and growing our local economies.

“We have over 300 members that use the workspace, as well as a huge range of community groups. We’ve just launched a mentorship scheme with St Mary’s University, pairing students with members of our workspace to bring in the next generation and we’ll be giving ten free memberships a year to St Mary’s graduates.”

Fresh for 2024 is the BIG Growth Programme led by London South Bank University and funded by UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. South London businesses can access academic support across three themes: digital health & wellbeing, circular economy, and low carbon. Businesses can also access Innovation Vouchers worth up to £5k to work with the University of Arts, London and the University of Roehampton.

Matthew Hamilton, Director of South London Partnership, concluded the event: “We’re incredibly proud of the impact that BIG South London has had to date, and this is just the beginning. We want to continue the momentum, the networks, and the partnerships we’ve developed. The achievements of the programme wouldn’t have been possible without the vision and commitment of the local authorities and universities within the partnership – so my heartfelt thanks go out to them.

“As well as the BIG Growth programme, which I urge South London businesses, employers and charities to take advantage of, the South London Partnership has launched a Retrofit Skills Centre to address the urgent demand for skills to decarbonise homes across South London, which is a one-stop shop for retrofit training and qualifications.”

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