Luminaries from the worlds of social science research, government, industry and the voluntary sector gathered to mark the arrival of sbarc|spark – Cardiff University’s Home of Innovation.
Described as a ‘society’s superlab,’ the building locates the research groups and external partners that comprise SPARK – the world’s first social science research park – alongside spinouts, start-ups and student entrepreneurs to co-create solutions for society’s wicked problems.
A goodwill message from Wales’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, was backed by support from Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and contributions from keynote innovation experts, Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, and Sir Geoff Mulgan, whose original insight helped shape the centre.
Welcoming sbarc|spark, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “By bringing together businesses, governments, the voluntary sector and academia, and applying shared knowledge, colocation and interdisciplinary working, sbarc|spark will contribute significantly towards our shared aim of promoting a culture of innovation. It will help to tackle issues from better healthcare to reducing our carbon footprint, and promote high-level business skills, attracting researchers and encouraging start-up businesses. sbarc|spark will make collaboration more spontaneous, bringing real benefits to all sort of sectors in every part of Wales.”
Adam Price, who played a key role in SPARK’s development as a former Senior Programme Manager in NESTA’s Innovation Lab, said: “Building the world’s first social science research park here in Wales is an incredible opportunity for us: not just to create change in Wales, but to create a new platform for social science researchers working shoulder to shoulder with practitioners, learning together in real time – it’s a very different way of doing social innovation and public policy.”
Professor Julia Black, Strategic Director of Innovation at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “It’s amazing. It has huge, huge potential. It’s really inspiring to come inside – it’s a really open space and has been designed around collaboration – it’s got a real buzz.”
Sir Geoff Mulgan said: “It’s very exciting to see sbarc|spark lifting off. I had some involvement years ago in the early stages of the project, creating Y Lab and working with the Cardiff City Region on their strategy, and I see this kind of model as vital for the next 20 to 30 years of social science.”
The stakeholder celebration marked the launch of sbarc|spark, which opened on 1 March. Designed by architects Hawkins\Brown, the building features commercial units and lab space for spinouts and start-ups, housing facilities including a RemakerSpace and visualisation centre that help the University collaborate to bring ideas to life.
The event convened a VIP panel to discuss the challenges and opportunities of place-based and community-led strategies for addressing major societal challenges. Contributors were Adam Price, Fozia Irfan, Director of Children and Young People at BBC Children in Need, Professor John Goddard, Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies at Newcastle University, and Kellie Beirne, Chief Executive, Cardiff Capital Region.
Cardiff University Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Damian Walford Davies, thanked keynotes, panellists and guests for their contribution.
“It’s been an amazing day – a really rich conceptual discussion of what social sciences are now meant to do in a world that is full of crises and challenges.”
Thought-leadership blogs from the four panellists will feature in the Home of Innovation Blog over the summer months.
For more information about working in sbarc|spark, email firstname.lastname@example.org.