Over 100 senior decision makers from public and private organisations gathered at Ricardo’s impressive building in Shoreham last week for the second ‘Innovation’ conference organised by the Coastal West Sussex Partnership, in collaboration with Willmott Dixon, the Greater Brighton Economic Board and Midnight Communications.

Innovation: People Place and Space Conference 2020

The conference focused on three areas of innovation – people, place and space, and was designed to encourage the sharing of ideas and opportunities to ultimately shape a brighter economic future for the coastal region.

Henry Powell, Chairman of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership, kicked things off by calling for greater collaboration throughout the region: “Our region is ripe for investment and prime for opportunity. The only way we are going to succeed is by working together for the greater good, towards a more economically prosperous coast. One of the areas that needs action is convincing central Government that levelling out regional investment isn’t just about the North – the South is in need as well. The time has come for us to stop the chat and start to act!”

The enigmatic Heather Bewers, a renowned futurologist, claimed that we could all be living in the virtual world soon, using the example that with coronavirus sweeping through the world, a virtual holiday would perhaps be a significantly safer option this year. She warned employers to future proof their businesses by offering greater flexibility for their workforce, to consider gaming as a new way to provide learning and development opportunities, and to personalise their products and services to a far higher degree than ever before.

Richard Pickett from Willmott Dixon talked about the great lengths the company is already going to with regards to sustainability.  He commented: “Coming together at events such as this is vital to ensure that communities, authorities and businesses are working collectively to address the climate emergency and that we are really thinking about our joint strategies for tangible future change.

“As an industry, construction has a huge responsibility to reduce the built environment’s impact, not just during the build process but throughout a building’s lifetime. This is a huge challenge and one we must all work on urgently to ensure we deliver.” 

Mat Hunter, Co-CEO at Plus X, explained that the talent of the future will demand a far different office space than is currently on offer as standard. The new Plus X building in Brighton has a Platinum score in terms of connectivity as Mat commented: “the toilets could overflow and the heating could blow up, but if the broadband goes down, everyone will go home!” Other considerations for new developments included provisions to ensure a healthy and effective workforce, spaces for curated collaboration, partnerships with local colleges and universities and high-level community engagement and inclusion.

Nick Lomax, MD of LCE Architects, claimed that “we’re at the start of a tectonic shift in global infrastructure”. Nick presented several futuristic designs to give the delegates an idea of what towns and cities might look like in the future: monorails to battle congestion, green flat roofs to combat air quality, wind turbines within buildings to generate energy, buildings on flood planes that can move up and down with water levels and underground pneumatic waste systems.

The panel discussed how the UK is faring in comparison to other countries. It was agreed that the UK isn’t spending enough money on its buildings and therefore they aren’t as fit for the future as other countries, especially those in Scandinavia and the Far East.

With plenty of food for thought, the overall message from the conference is that business and public sector needs to come together to drive the region forward to ensure economic prosperity. With so much at stake, 2020 should be a year of serious change to try to keep up with the pace of new technology, environmental targets and demands from the talent of the future.

An illustration of the conference topics by Imagistic