BIG Summit highlights the power of working together to achieve growth and prosperity in South London
Over 200 leading entrepreneurs, academics and policymakers came together this week at BIG South London’s Business, Innovation & Growth Summit at Kingston University’s Town House.
Skills, training, higher education, the future of work, business clusters and prosperity were all on the agenda, as the summit aimed to examine how the ecosystem for innovation can be developed across the South London boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton, Richmond, and Sutton.
Professor Paul Workman from the Institute of Cancer Research, based in Sutton, got the Summit off to a world-leading start. Hot on the heels of its widely reported breakthrough in creating less toxic cancer drugs, Professor Workman explained that ground-breaking innovation is happening right here in South London, with drugs being developed in the heart of Sutton being used to treat people around the globe.
New research into South London industry clusters was unveiled – showing that the creative industries, construction, life sciences and healthcare and financial and professional services – are the sectors powering the region, creating the most employment opportunities and also demonstrating the greatest capacity for growth. BIG South London is already supporting the creative industries and healthcare sectors through the creation of new industry networks, and the South London Partnership’s Mayor’s Construction Academy (MCA) is working with the industry to build a talent pipeline of workers, equipped with the skills to get good jobs in the construction sector. The research also clearly evidences the significant potential in South London for life sciences and healthcare innovation, building on the knowledge and expertise of BIG South London partners such as the Institute of Cancer Research at the London Cancer Hub in Sutton, St. George’s University and the University of Roehampton in Wandsworth, Kingston University in Kingston and London South Bank University in Croydon.
The role that universities and colleges play in their communities was an important topic of the day. Diana Beech, Chief Executive, London High, who sat on the panel ‘what role does higher education play in creating thriving communities?’ says: “Universities and further education colleges are true lifebuoys for their localities. Yes, they do fantastic teaching and research, but they also make a conscious attempt to help the communities they serve. For example, climate-conscious activity to help make places greener, providing legal support to disadvantaged groups and building cultural relations with minority communities. Universities keep their communities afloat.”
The pandemic has completely disrupted the way people work. With hybrid working as the new normal, the Summit sought to examine how this is affecting businesses and residents in South London.
Diana Sterck, Chief Executive, Merton Chamber of Commerce: “There are a huge number of small entrepreneurial businesses in South London and in these difficult times, we need to ensure that they are supported. Adopting a flexible economy approach, with workspaces as part of our high streets, small businesses have an affordable option to stay connected to the wider business community. We’re also receiving a rising number of enquiries from bigger corporates with central London HQs looking for more local, flexible options for their staff to work. Flexible workspaces in the heart of our communities are the way forward.”
The development of seven new flexible workspaces is a key aim of the BIG South London programme. The first of which, Oru Sutton, opened in November with hot and fixed desk options, with the rest of the workspaces to follow in 2023.
The event was closed by Clare O’Connor, Director of the South London Partnership. In her closing remarks, she said: “Let’s take the momentum and energy in this room and talk about and promote South London. We need to put South London on the business and innovation map – not enough people know about the strengths of our region and the value that our universities and further education colleges bring to our communities.”
BIG, which stands for Business, Innovation and Growth, South London, supports businesses and charities to grow and develop through collaboration with the universities and further education colleges in the area.