A golden dawn for tech city

The Olympic Park is a perfect place for creative technology firms to build a digital equivalent to Canary Wharf, bringing jobs and training for local young people. By Russ Thorne

Now that the leaves are falling and the Olympic and Paralympic memories are starting to fade into the autumn mist, it might be tempting to imagine the Olympic Park and its surroundings as having no further purpose. Far from it: the site is being prepared for a hitech future at the forefront of the digital economy.

For many organisations involved in London 2012, now is the time to start making good on their legacy plans and to create new opportunities for London and the UK as a whole. Technology companies are targeting the Olympic site as a new base, bringing with them new building developments as well as training and employment opportunities.

“The Olympic site was once marshland but is now one of the most wellconnected parts of the UK from a technology and infrastructure prospective,” says Adam Landau, co- director of commercial property estate agents DeVono Property.

“Some of the largest available spaces, such as the media centre and technology infrastructure centres, are prime examples of the type of spaces that the Google and Facebook equivalents of tomorrow could become part of.” According to Landau, the amount of space available, coupled with a state of the art network infrastructure, makes the Olympic site and its environs an attractive alternative to other parts of London. “This is the perfect opportunity to create a Canary Wharf equivalent for technology companies,” says Landau.

That’s certainly the plan, says Duncan Innes, executive director for real estate at the London Legacy Development Corporation, who believes the area will be an ideal location for existing businesses and start-ups alike. “This will particularly be the case for fast moving, fast growing IT and tech companies,” he says. “Businesses that move to the area will find themselves at the centre of a new and vibrant part of the city with unrivalled infrastructure, world-class venues and fantastic parkland.”

That infrastructure extends well beyond subterranean fibre-optic cabling and manicured paths. For example, nine rail lines serve Stratford Station and they have had their mettle thoroughly tested by this summer ’s crowds, making living and working in the new sites much more practical.

Gradually some of the venues that brought the Games so successfully to life will find new incarnations: the anti-doping lab will function as a research laboratory, whi le The International Quarter (TIQ) Stratford City will spring up on the site of the London 2012 security base (providing four million sq ft of new work area and three acres of open spaces). “The huge size and capability of the IT infrastructure and broadband width in place makes TIQ Stratford City particularly attractive to technology firms,” says Kevin Chapman of property group Lend Lease.

There are also grand designs for the former media headquarters, which include incubator spaces for start-ups, training facilities for apprentices and even a university research centre. “The East End has a rich culture of creativity,” says Innes. “We believe the press and broadcast centres will become a new commercial centre for East London that will bring thousands of jobs and training opportunities for people in the area.”

Gavin Poole is CEO of iCITY, the company selected by the London Legacy Development Corporation as the sole preferred bidder to take the media centre forwards. He believes the site has the potential to generate jobs and promote innovation. “The press and broadcast centre is one of the most digitally connected buildings in the world, providing an almost unlimited bandwidth connectivity. With the flourishing digital and creative industries sector just up the road, iCITY will extend the thriving technology cluster in east London onto the Olympic Park, creating over 6,500 jobs in the local communities and adding £460m to the national economy.”

But before anyone can take advantage of those tech jobs, they’ll need the right training in science, technology, engineering and maths. Developing these STEM skills among the workforce of the future is another huge part of the legacy challenge that corporate bodies and educational institutions alike have set themselves.

“STEM education is important in ensuring that local young people can take maximum benefit from job opportunities in the companies moving into the area,” says Denise Brown-Sackey, principal of local FE institution Newham College. To that end, she explains, the college is planning to develop a new campus in Stratford (potentially on the planned Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) as well as modernising its existing Newham site.

The college’s Discovery Lab is also training local companies in nanotechnology and near-field communication technologies (such as those used in Oyster cards), she continues. Science A Level applications increased this September so interest is on the rise, but there’s more work to do. “A new skills and enterprise campus would be a major boost to skills development in the area,” says Brown-Sackey.

“Particularly, the Stratford campus would have a science, technology, engineering and mathematics specialism aimed at equipping the local population to meet the challenges of new technologies.”

Developing a larger ICT-skilled workforce could also have international benefits for the UK, and it is in this area that some of the larger Olympic sponsors are getting involved. As part of a five-year “Building a brilliant future”

plan that started with London 2012, Cisco has increased the number of its networking academies with a view to improving technology education.

“We’re providing skills and an envi ronment in which hi-tech entrepreneurship can thrive and will help the economy,” says Neil Crockett, Managing Director London 2012.

Students at the academies (of which there are 10,000 worldwide) develop foundation skills in ICT as well as improving their problem-solving abilities and learning to work collaboratively.

This means they’ll be well equipped with globally recognised qualifications to maintain networks such as those on the Olympic site, and similar systems worldwide, which will form a significant part of the global economy in years to come. “We need to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and maths in the UK to produce a high calibre of skills, enabling us to compete globally,” explains Crockett.

Other Olympic sponsors are also working with the community to show how science and technology skills can be applied in real-world settings.

EDF’s environmental education programme, the Pod, was part of the “Get Set” initiative developed by the Games organiser, Locog, and helped students learn how to reduce their school’s carbon footprint. The company is now collaborating with the environmental youth charity Envision on a three-year legacy project to work with students in the Olympic Park area on a range of initiatives, including those aimed at helping local residents make their communities more sustainable.

All of these projects, whether designed to enhance the built environment of the Olympic Park or the skills of the people living and working there, show that although the excitement of the Games themselves is over, their influence lives on. The slogan “Inspire a generation” can be applied to sport, naturally, but also to those who want to better themselves, gain new qualifications and be a part of a driven, innovative, digital era.

It’s already making a difference to the streets of east London, according to school principal Brown-Sackey.

“The area is seeing significant benefit from having hosted the Olympics. The huge infrastructure developments that young people are seeing, coupled with the overwhelming achievements of the Games, are contributing to a sense of ‘can do’ and increased local pride.”

READ MORE

The closing ceremony was just the beginning

Cisco’s programme of educational investment will be a major 2012 legacy.

Read more...

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