A collaboration between universities and businesses in the creative technology sector is to receive a multi-million pound investment from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Creative Industries Clusters Programme, to support, connect and amplify the brilliant work and innovation that takes place in the region.

The Bristol & Bath Creative R&D programme combines research from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), University of Bristol, Bath Spa University and the University of Bath, with the reach and community of Watershed, and companies working across design, broadcast, performance, technology, publishing, and other sectors.
Professor Jane Roscoe, who is Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean at UWE Bristol said: “This is a golden opportunity to solidify the south west’s reputation as a centre of excellence in the creative technology sector and its collaboration with regional universities.
“UWE Bristol’s own research within our faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education is already shaping the future of how cutting edge technology might be used to engage the audiences of the future in new market places and understanding user engagement in new platforms. Through business collaboration, this project will take the research to the next level.”       
The investment, which comes through the Government’s Industrial Strategy, is built on the premise that time, space and connections – across small business and large industry, across companies and academia, and across different types of creative business – will supercharge imagination, possibilities, products and routes to market.  

The Bristol and Bath Creative cluster was identified by the Bazalgette Report as one of three regions outside London to have international growth potential. The report says that it has a 50% advantage in productivity over other creative clusters, contributing £780m back to the treasury, mainly from small and micro businesses.

Through a mix of development labs, fellowship schemes and large project funding, this programme will build on existing thematic strengths in the region including XR (immersive experiences), live performance and 5G. The development programme is set to strengthen the micro business creative sector, producing new jobs in new start-ups.

The model puts inclusion and new talent at its heart to identify and support the thought leaders of tomorrow. Every programme will include new talent fellows, supported to think about innovation in a digital first way. In turn, New Talent Fellows will co-produce skills workshops for the next generation, creating a radically inclusive leadership model.

Partners in designing and delivering the programme include BBC, BDH, Crack Magazine, Creative Bath, Open Bionics, YellowDog, TLT, Drummer TV, Silverback Films, Audible, Aardman, Xmos, RSC, Yogscast, Sensible Object, Strange Thoughts, Mayk, Knowle West Media Centre, and Creative Youth Network.

Researchers involved in the programme will connect partners with research that meets their needs.
Andy Conroy, Controller of BBC Research and Development, said: “Through this R&D partnership, we are particularly keen to understand more about the impact of AR and VR technologies on young audiences. One of the questions we will look at, among others, is whether the BBC can create new engaging experiences that bring youngsters together through collaboration in new ways.
“Work through the partnership could also give the BBC better insight into how immersed audiences feel at live events. Our BBC South West colleagues are helping to drive our live agenda.”
‘Bristol & Bath Creative R&D’ builds upon the success of the AHRC supported REACT, a four year programme of Industry and academic collaboration which has generated over £7.5m of economic activity.

Talking about Bristol & Bath Creative R&D, Professor Jon Dovey, who is Director of the programme and based at UWE Bristol, said: “I’m delighted to be leading this collaboration, we have a genuine opportunity to create something remarkable across Bath and Bristol, a creative network that produces opportunities and jobs that reflect the diversity of our communities. The projects that we invest in with our partners will use the best research to build prototypes for the creative industries that put us on the world map as leaders in innovation for inclusive growth.”

Clare Reddington, Industry Co-Director and CEO of Watershed said: “By forefronting inclusive innovation models, we are excited about the difference this funding will enable us to make. You only need to look to silicon valley to see how innovation clusters can produce social inequality and monocultural products. By forefronting the value and dividend of connectivity over output we will challenge and change the way our cluster’s success is shared.”

Bristol & Bath Creative R&D is one of nine research and development partnerships across the country in the AHRC Creative Industries Cluster Programme.
A new Policy and Evidence Centre for the sector led by global innovation foundationNesta, with partners across the UK, will also connect organisations in the creative industries, research communities, and policy-makers to develop independent evidence and analysis that can inform decision-making across the industry and underpin future policy decisions.

Geraint Evans