A vision for digital business that could transform Norwich’s reputation

PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 June 2013

Prof John Last, vice chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts. Photo by Simon Finlay

Prof John Last, vice chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts. Photo by Simon Finlay

Archant Norfolk Copyright

With the Norwich University of the Arts celebrating £3m of funding for a project to boost digital creative businesses, education correspondent Martin George looks at a vision that could transform Norwich’s national reputation.

Norwich University of the Arts is nothing if not ambitious, but its aspirations spread far wider than its comparatively small 1,800-strong student body, and encompass the future of the city itself.

NUA is celebrating the confirmation of £3m funding for a Digital Centre for Innovation in the city centre, part of a vision which, if fulfilled, would help give Norwich a national reputation as a digital city.

The university describes the centre as “high quality incubation space for new digital creative business”, and brings out NUA’s focus not just on creativity and the arts, but how to harness them for business and jobs.

For vice-chancellor John Last, the creative and entrepreneurial impulses are closely related.

“Creative people are very good at problem solving and coming up with innovative ways of thinking, and that’s probably a definition of entrepreneurship. I think entrepreneurs have to be agile and thoughtful and aware of how ideas can be successful, and I don’t think that’s very far from what creative people want to achieve,” he said.

He said the university had been talking to Norwich businesses about the centre for two years, because “we wanted to have something that local businesses felt was supporting their interests, and not just in the area they work in”.

The project will provide business support for small and growing digital creative businesses, giving them support from both academics from the NUA and businesses in the city.

The project received more than £1.5m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and £200,000 from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. It aims to stimulate the regional economy and create 195 high-value jobs by 2020.

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia LEP, said: “It is a very exciting scheme which will help reinforce Norwich’s position as a digital creative hub, helping to connect industry and academia and create almost 200 new jobs in one of the LEP’s priority sectors.”

Norwich City Council is also backing it, and leader Brenda Arthur said: “This will result in a centre of excellence here in Norwich which will stimulate high-value jobs in the growing area of digital business and will make a real difference to stimulating the economy both here and beyond.

“This is a real coup for the city and I am sure will help attract other business to Norwich, ensuring that our young people have more opportunities for training and work into the future.”

The centre aims to help Norwich replicate the success of Bristol and Manchester in the digital economy, and allow its graduates to stay in the city to set up businesses, rather than feel they have to move to London.

Prof Last said: “This is about supporting and working with the city towards a vision of a creative community base, something Norwich is renowned for and benefits from, socially, culturally, economically and representationally.

“We want businesses that become national players, but are based in Norwich. That’s the aspiration.”

He added: “At its simplest it’s undergraduates setting up businesses in their formative years, to create a community where you are trying to make more than the sum of its parts, because it becomes a place for these people to come together and find mutuality.”

The centre will be based in Cavendish House, on St Andrew’s Street, which Prof Last said would be transformed into a focal point.

He expects building work to start in a matter of months, and to be complete by late 2014.

And where will this help take the NUA in 20 years time?

The scale of Prof Last’s ambition is clear: “I think the university will be the best specialist university in Europe.”

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