No Colman’s - so what will Norwich be known for in the future?
PUBLISHED: 08:16 12 February 2019 | UPDATED: 08:49 12 February 2019
Mustard, manufacturing, shoes, literature - Alan Partridge, perhaps.
Norwich is known for plenty, not least its historic city centre and thriving food scene.
But with Colman’s mustard relocating and the city’s manufacturing trade having taken a hit in the last few years, the list is evolving.
In some areas, the future is as bright as the past is memorable - in 2012 Norwich became the first UNESCO City of Literature in England, and as of 2017 we became home to a National Centre of Writing, in the medieval Dragon Hall.
And, elsewhere, the world’s developing industries are growing from Norwich.
Through the Norwich University of Arts (NUA), the city has long been at the forefront of the creative industries. With their value expected to grow from £102bn nationally to £132bn by 2025, it is likely to be a key contributor to a future Norwich.
Sarah Steed, director of innovation and engagement at NUA, said: “The city is already recognised by the government as a creative cluster and jobs in this field as highly resistant to future automation compared to other types of work.
“The fastest growing areas will be those that require a combination of high level digital skills and creative ability. Games design and development, digital design, animation and film are all fast-growing areas at NUA, and these are fields that are likely to dominate as trends such as gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality start to affect many areas of all of our lives.”
She said it would be impossible to name the jobs that will exist in 20 years time, but that many of them would be based in Norwich.
“In a digitally connected world, the need to be based in London is disappearing fast,” she said.
Whether it is our pioneering tech firms, the innovative research at the Norwich Research Park or the 21st century transformation of traditional industries such as manufacturing, Norwich is fast building a reputation for tech.
Tim Robinson, chief operating officer at Tech East, said: “In very crude terms I would say we are getting into the third wave. Historically, we have been a big centre for manufacturing, then in the last 150 years a big regional centre for financial services and now we are a growing centre for digital business.
“Norwich is a city for tech talent, in part down to people come through the education system here, University Technical College Norfolk, City College Norwich, the University of East Anglia and NUA.”
He added that it was an enormous industry which was not self-contained, ranging from tech helping to grow existing business to entrepreneurial firms at the cutting edge of development.
“Digital businesses are not simply tech businesses operating in a bubble,” he said. “Tech is impacting on all kinds of sectors, including manufacturing and financial services. Digital is supporting other industries.”
The Tech Nation 2018 report showed that the digital tech business turnover for 2017 in Norwich was £211m, with 3,027 jobs in the digital tech sector. It praised Step into Tech, a social enterprise which connects children and families with a passion for technology.
Elsewhere, in aviation, Norwich is also leading the way, connecting a pioneering future with strong historic links to the field.
When the Norwich Aviation Academy opened in 2017, set up by the Aviation Skills Partnership (ASP), it became the first of its kind in the UK, aiming to create the next generation of aviation workers.
Having recently been bought by Pennant Aviation, a 60-year-old British business, ASP chief executive Simon Witts said it could take its business to the next level.
But it is already making waves - its aviation skills manifesto is being fed into the government’s Aviation Green Paper, while the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is to list aviation as one of its key sectors, alongside energy and agriculture.
Mr Witts said: “We are leading the world from Norwich. If a child is sitting in Norwich, or Norfolk, thinking they want to be involved with aviation, we can offer those pathways. They don’t have to wait until they’re 18, they can start now.”
And the goal? That in five, 10 years, if a person thought about pilot training, becoming part of cabin crew, taking steps towards aviation engineering, they would know Norwich is where they need to be.
Graveyard of ambition
Mr Witts said it was key to remember how significant the achievements being made across the city, and county, were.
“I remember coming up here as a boy on holiday and there’s always been this image of Norfolk being a graveyard of ambition,” he said.
“People say things don’t work out here, and it’s always going to be replaced by something or move elsewhere, and that’s just not the case.
“With aviation, this isn’t just a building near Norwich Airport. It’s a change of a sector, a completely new approach. Norwich will always be the heart of this.
“It will grow across the region and country from Norwich.”
Drives have been led by various bodies across the county to shout about the innovation and developments being made locally.
At the Norfolk Day business summit in 2018, Marcus Hemsley, of Fountain Partnership, said the county needed to get “better at ambition”, and selling itself elsewhere around the country.
• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking here is recommended.
• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).
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