Cambridgeshire business and community leaders unite at ‘Live Lab’ event to help unleash county’s full potential

Creating a future vision for Cambridgeshire that will benefit all was the task for more than 200 participants from the county’s business, academic, public sector and community organisations who gathered at the region’s first ever ‘Live Lab’ event, hosted by financial and business advisers Grant Thornton UK LLP in collaboration with Cambridge Ahead.

The interactive event, held at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, encouraged regional attendees from all sectors to come together and collectively dream up ideas and actions that will help take Cambridgeshire to the next level.

In small groups, guests were pushed to think outside the box and present their ideas about how the region can continue to thrive. Suggestions ranged from innovative transport solutions to a dedicated international tourism centre and empowering local businesses to have a say in the school curriculum.

Attendees also offered progressive housing solutions including an ‘age gap living’ project, similar to house sharing schemes already in place in other world class cities, where young and elderly people can rent rooms at a reduced rate to help tackle the affordable housing shortage. Another idea was an equity scheme, funded by employers or diverse investment pools, to help local people get a foot on the property ladder.

Darren Bear, Practice Leader at Grant Thornton’s Cambridge office who led the event, said: “Our research has already identified Cambridge as the most vibrant place in England, offering the best balance between economic growth, innovation, social equality, health and happiness. But we think there’s more we can achieve.

“The aim of the Cambridge Live Lab was to bring together many different sectors to engage, share and create ideas that will build on the county’s considerable strengths and create an economy that is even more productive and progressive at all levels, leaving no area or community behind.

“The atmosphere, energy and enthusiasm in the room was immense and so many excellent ideas were conceived. But it doesn’t end here. We now need to agree actions and take our vision forward.”

Grant Thornton/Cambridge Ahead ‘Live Lab’ Cambridge

Further ideas uncovered during the Live Lab included incentivising people to work where they live by introducing a nine-day fortnight with flexible working hours; a job swap programme to encourage empathy and diversity in the workplace, and putting Cambridge forward as the City of Culture 2027, to promote Cambridge and the broader region to an international audience.

Several guests spoke of the need to decentralise Cambridge. Funding for new buildings, housing and transport routes would reduce congestion in the centre and encourage people and businesses to make better use of the whole region. In turn, this would bring employment opportunities to areas that have not been able to take full advantage of Cambridge’s recent growth. Ideas to achieve this included reduced commercial rents in some towns so that shops do not stand empty.

Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead which supported the Live Lab, commented: “We already have a vibrant economy in Cambridge but we need to think about the future. What I love about our City is that there is so much passion here; people think very deeply about their vision for the future sustainable growth of Cambridge. The quality of the Live Lab discussions around key topics such as housing, transport, education and connectivity clearly underlined this.”

Part of Grant Thornton’s nationwide ‘Vibrant Economy’ campaign, the Cambridge Live Lab was the last in a series of City Inquiries held by the firm across the country in Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol, Reading, Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Darren Bear concluded: “The Live Lab was not an event, it was the start of a journey and our task now is to look at how we can come together and make the future vision we have created a reality. It may take time and hard work but it’s also exciting and we can’t let it end here.”

A video capturing the Live Lab event can be viewed here