World-first ‘smart’ fungal building to be created in £2.5m living architecture project

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A revolutionary new type of intelligent building made with green construction materials and capable of adaptively reacting to changes in light, temperature and air pollutants is being developed by UWE Bristol academics in collaboration with partners from Denmark (Centre for Information Technology and Architecture), Italy (MOGU) and the Netherlands (Utrecht University).

Researchers from the UWE Bristol’s Centre of Unconventional Computing will lead the construction of a smart home for the future using fungi, a carbon free material, as part of a £2.5 million project funded by the European Commission.

Using a novel bio-electric system developed by scientists, living fungi grown inside the building’s framework structure will act as a sensor detecting changes in light, pollutants and temperature, and computers will analyse the information. When particular changes are recognised, the system will have the potential to respond adaptively by controlling connected devices such as lights and heaters.

UWE Bristol computer scientists will work with European experts in architecture, biophysics and mycology on the project, which has been heralded as a potential breakthrough for the building industry due to its eco-friendly credentials. By using fungi as an integrated structural and computational substrate, buildings would have low production and running costs, embedded artificial intelligence, and could be returned to nature when no longer in use.

The three-year FUNGAR (Fungal Architectures) project will mark the first time intelligent biological substances have been used as construction materials. It will see living organisms and computing function integrated into designing and building.

Professor Andrew Adamatzky, Director of the Centre of Unconventional Computing, said: “Our overarching goal is to design and bio-manufacture a sensing and computing building with fungi. This is a radically new approach as it proposes to use a real living organism in the material structure, which is also tuned to perform computation.

“If successful, the building as a whole will be able to recognise lighting levels, chemicals in the environment, the presence of people, and will respond to touch. Acting as a massively-parallel computer, the building will control devices depending on the environmental conditions. For example, a warning light could be lit if high levels of air pollution were detected or inhabitants could be warned about high or low temperatures. It’s our vision for an alternative version of a smart home.

“This type of building would be ecologically-friendly as it will be made from natural materials, and will be lightweight, waterproof and recyclable when it reaches the end of its life.”

Professor Adamatzky discovered fungi could be used as a type of functional computer following a studyat UWE Bristol three years ago. He found that the organism reacts to external stimuli such changes in lighting conditions and temperature with spikes of electrical activity.

Fungi is already used as a building material in Europe but the existing approach involves growing the organism to the shape of bricks or blocks, before drying it out to harden. However, fungi have never before been used in live form in self-growing construction. For the FUNGAR project, the fungi will be combined with nanoparticles and polymers to make mycelium-based electronics. This material will then be grown inside the building’s triaxial woven structure. The full-scale fungal building will be constructed in Denmark and Italy, with a smaller scale version being created at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus.

The academic partners in the project are the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture in Denmark and Utrecht Universityin Holland. The industry partner is MOGU, a mycelium-based technologies company based in Italy.

UWE Bristol secure new Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Reusaworld

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UWE Bristol Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) team have secured another KTP with Reusaworld and the Centre for Machine Vision. The new KTP means that UWE Bristol now has 11 live KTPs. The KTP which is based in Gloucester will see innovative changes to the world of second hand books.

This KTP will be with Reuseabook, a part of Reusaworld.

Reuseabook was founded in 2008 by Rob Hollier and Ami Hollier with the following mission: NEVER to allow a single book to go to landfill.

Strong believers in conscientious capitalism, they wanted to create an earth-friendly sustainable business model while helping others. After much hard work what emerged was the Reuseaworld group: an award-winning, ethical, environmentally-friendly and technology-savvy enterprise that uses the internet to sell second-hand books worldwide.

Working with the Centre for Machine Vision, the aim of the 30 month KTP is to develop innovative machine vision techniques and deep learning methodologies to test the viability of data outputs of a 3D Book Vision System and its application to the book grading process. Ultimately, increasing the speed and quality of inbound book sorting, in-house data management and book cataloguing.

The UWE Lead for the KTP is Professor Lyndon Smith and the Academic Supervisor is Dr Abdul Farooq, who are both part of the Centre for Machine Vision at UWE Bristol. The Centre for Machine Vision is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). They solve real-world practical computer vision problems. Their  particular excellence lies in three-dimensional reconstruction and surface inspection.

Innovate UK scored the proposal very highly (4th out of 60 applications) so congratulations to all involved!

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Pee Power technology returns to Glastonbury Festival for fourth year

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Technology developed at UWE Bristol that converts urine into electricity is set to be showcased at Glastonbury Festival for a fourth year.

An installation of a large 40-person urinal will return to a prominent location near the Pyramid Stage to raise awareness of the system, which is being commercialised as announced last year and introduced to off-grid areas in the developing world.

The PEE POWER® system can turn organic matter such as urine into enough electricity to power lighting or charge mobile phones. At the same time, it sanitises urine and produces plant fertiliser as a natural by-product.

Energy produced at the event will power lighting in the urinal block at night, while a new feature ‘Pee to Play’ will see festival goers playing retro games on Game Boys powered by the system. Visitors can rate their PEE POWER experience via an electronic display and give survey feedback to academic staff available to explain how the technology works.

The PEE POWER urinals – among 5,500 toilets at the festival – have been a fixture at the event since 2015 and used by thousands of people each day. In previous years, they have powered information displays, and helped charge phones and provide urinal lighting.

Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “It’s a great pleasure to be welcomed back to this wonderful event for a fourth year and to be part of the festival’s environmentally-conscious sanitation campaign.

“There’s been much activity with our technology since our appearance in 2017, with the introduction of PEE POWER to schools in Uganda and Kenya supporting our aim to improve safety and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities including in refugee camps and slums. Our system is being refined and made more efficient, and for the first time we will be powering some of the applications directly, which means no batteries. We even hope to be generating surplus electricity, especially during the busiest times at the festival.

“As team of scientists, we’re hoping for greater interaction with the public this year and it’s the first time we’ll be recording public feedback on the system.”

Dr Xavier Walter, one of the main researchers in the team, added: “We hope our retro gaming exhibit will resonate with the audience and attract festivals goers to have a look at our technology and ask questions.”

Ahead of the festival, the microbial fuel cell technology will be demonstrated at a Family Day event at Heathrow Airport, where the system is being considered as part of a commitment from Heathrow and waterless urinal technology company WhiffAway to zero emissions and sustainability.

The team’s presence at Glastonbury is the result of a close collaboration with partners Oxfam, log cabin and garden building specialists Dunster House and WhiffAway in a collective effort to improve lives in refugee camps and areas of the world with no sanitation or electricity.

Chris Murphy, Owner and Managing Director of Dunster House, said: “It’s truly amazing what Ioannis Ieropoulos and his team have achieved over the past years. We feel proud and honoured to be part of this project every year since the earliest field trial back in 2015. From that single raised latrine placed outside the University, we are now providing a structure ready to accommodate up to 40 people. We’re glad to be back at Glastonbury 2019 collaborating in a life-changing project that can help people all around the world.”

James McLean, Group CEO of WhiffAway Group, said: “It’s an honour and a privilege to be combining our cutting edge technologies at this wonderful event. By putting our heads together we hope to continue making a difference to the wider community and help change the world for the better.”

The PEE POWER demonstration is the flagship research project of a formal partnership between Glastonbury Festival and UWE Bristol signed in 2017 focusing on sustainability projects including waste reduction and energy efficiency.

How PEE POWER® works

PEE POWER® is generated when microbial fuel cells (MFCs) work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (the fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. The MFC taps a portion of the biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity or PEE POWER®. This green technology also cleans the urine so that the by product can be used as a crop fertiliser.

The Pee Power project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

KTP Case Study: Gloucester Wildlife Trust

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This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

KTP Case Study: Burleigh Pottery

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This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

£7.7m investment for University print research centre

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The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)’s Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) is to receive a £7.7m grant from Research England’s Expanding Excellence fund. This prestigious grant is awarded in recognition of the Centre’s internationally acclaimed practical research.

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore, who made the announcement about the funding, said: “Pushing the boundaries of knowledge and conquering new innovations are what our universities are known for the world over. This programme led by UWE Bristol will give us a glimpse into the past using the technology of the future, with 3D printing to recreate historical artefacts.

“The Expanding Excellence in England Fund will support projects throughout England to master new and developing areas of research and industry.

“Made possible through our record R&D spend delivered by our modern Industrial Strategy, the investment will support researchers to develop solutions and opportunities for UK researchers and businesses.”

The CFPR’s work looks into the artistic, historical and industrial significance of creative print practices, processes and technologies.

The investment will fund a range of research projects over the next three years and is set to create 19 new roles within the centre. The recruits will work closely with industry partners around three research themes: transformative technologies, reconstructing historic methods, and 3D-printing.

Talking about the funding, UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve West said: “We are honoured to be one of the universities to receive this significant funding through Research England. Our Centre for Fine Print Research is going from strength to strength.

“Last year it was shortlisted for the Times Higher Award for its work with Burleigh Pottery to help the iconic company continue printing its traditional print patterns on pottery. This fund will now allow the Centre to work ever more closely with partners to tackle big challenges around printing.”

Celebrating its 21st birthday later this year, the Centre has established itself at the forefront of print technologies. With a focus on industrial development and new technologies, researchers at the Centre have established a number of high profile collaborations with artists, makers and industry partners.

Projects include developing uses of 3D printing, developing new types of printing inks, and collaborating with Sir Peter Blake to find fine art applications for emerging print techniques.

Professor Carinna Parraman, Director of the Centre for Fine Print Research, said: “We are thrilled to be awarded this funding and for the CFPR to now be formally recognised as a truly established and world-leading research centre. We are looking for artists, designers, scientists, technologists and leaders at a range of levels to join our group. The funding supports a range of posts including associate professors, researchers and technicians across our key areas, which includes fine art, print, product design, robotics, electronics, software, manufacturing, materials science and nanotechnology.”

With a focus on industrial development and new technologies, researchers at the Centre have established a number of high-profile collaborations with artists, makers and industry partners. A range of current and future partners have contributed to the funding application, including Burleigh Potteries, St Cuthbert’s Mill, Cranfield Colours, The National Gallery London, The Crafts Council, Denby Potteries, Glass Technology Services Ltd and Hewlett Packard.

Other contributors include John Purcell Paper, Imerys Group, Toshiba, Multiple Sclerosis Research, Courtney and Co., Ultimaker 3D, Pangolin, Wedgwood, National Trust, National Science and Media Museum Group, Bristol Legible City and Bristol City Council, RNIB, ColourCom, Create Education, Ken Stradling Collection, and Spike Print Studio Bristol.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership graded ‘Outstanding’

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A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between UWE Bristol and Viper Innovations has been graded as “Outstanding” by Innovate UK.

Viper Innovations Ltd is an established provider of industry-leading products for integrity monitoring of electrical cabling in subsea oil and gas production.

At the start of the 18 month KTP, Viper’s business was in subsea oil and gas, but it recognised its technology had potential for other sectors. A new opportunity in rail highlighted the need for different models of engagement to drive forward technical innovation in new sectors. The original aim was to use UWE’s co-creative innovation expertise to establish an integrated user-led product innovation process, speeding up time to market and de-risking technical developments. Kim Mahoney, the Associate, brought outstanding marketing skills and experience and her proactive approach was a key element in the success of the project.

Overall, the KTP realised some significant achievements over a relatively short period, enabling an innovative SME to accelerate development of its CableGuardian product in collaboration with a large national operator, Network Rail, and many other partners. It has provided a clear route to grow Viper’s business through an effective diversification strategy. For the academics, it provided opportunities for research publications and extremely useful practitioner contacts. The Associate gained invaluable experience in both industry and academic fields, undertook a range of professional training and is taking up a new role in industry as well as a part-time Lecturer position at UWE.

“We would like to thank our Academic Partners at UWE for their invaluable contribution and dedication to this project. The KTP has proven to be an excellent vehicle for transferring and embedding a level of knowledge and understanding to the business which would likely have not taken place without it. Consequently, Viper Innovations has taken a step change in its approach to product development, which ultimately ensures alignment to our clients’ needs, reduces our cost and time to market and provides a level of clarity in understanding of new market opportunity and how best to communicate the benefits of each product to each user.”

Max Nodder, Business Development Director at Viper Innovations

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Congratulations to all involved.

To find out more about KTP’s please visit our website.

UWE Bristol Alumni wins prestigious award

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UWE Bristol alumnus Neha Chaudhry was announced as the winner of the Innovation Award for the South West Region at the Medilink Healthcare and Business Awards 2019 for her business Walk to Beat.

Consequently, Walk to Beat came second in the national Medilink Healthcare and Business Awards and was the only company from the South West region to be nominated for the Innovation award. 

Walk to Beat is a med-tech start-up that aims to develop smart assisted living products to empower the ageing population. Their first product is a Smart Walking Stick designed for Parkinson’s sufferers to help them overcome freezing and walking problems.

Freezing in Parkinson’s feels like your feet getting glued to the ground and not being able to walk any further, eventually leading to falls. Scientific research has shown that any type of rhythm can help the patients to get moving again.

The Smart Stick monitors walking patterns and gives a cue through the handle in the form rhythmic vibration when a person freezes. This prompts the user to come out of the freezing episode and keep walking. This results in reduced duration of the freezing episode and lower number of falls.

Neha, who completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees at UWE Bristol, is based within Launch Space, a graduate incubator within the Universities Enterprise Zone. The start-up also has support from the Health Tech Hub to progress the development.

A new version of the stick is now in development to further meet the needs of its users. Walk to Beat is currently looking for investment in order to mass produce the product. 

Congratulations to Neha! For more information on Walk to Beat please visit their website

Gestural musical gloves now available on pre-order

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Featured Researcher: Dr Tom Mitchell

Gestural musical gloves, technology originally developed at UWE Bristol by Dr Tom Mitchell, are now available for pre-order through a company called MI.MU. The gloves use motion capture and AI to enable wearers to create music with their movements.

The technology, which has been developed in partnership with Grammy Award-winning musician Imogen Heap, has already produced a small run of bespoke and handmade gloves for a select few musicians.

The product’s commercialisation now means that the gloves are half their original price and currently cost £2500 a pair. They have been designed according to the needs of musical artists and contain enhanced build quality and gesture control, improved electronics, and faster wireless communication.

In 2014, Ms Heap founded MI.MU, a partnership with UWE Bristol that also comprises fashion designer Rachel Freire, E-textiles designer Hannah Perner-Wilson, electronic engineer Sebastian Madgwick, scientist and musician Kelly Snook, musician and UX designer Chagall van den Berg, as well as Managing Director Adam Stark.

It was then made available to the public and saw the growth of a burgeoning community of performers making use of the gloves’ potential – from classical pianists, to film composers, beatboxers, and pop stars including Ariana Grande, who used the gloves on her 2015 ‘Honeymoon’ world tour.

Since 2014, Dr Mitchell and colleagues have refined the technology, streamlining designs with initial support from private investors and a range of academic and enterprise support including the EU Commission and Innovate UK.

Dr Mitchell said: “It’s exciting that we have managed to get to a point where the gloves will soon be available to all musicians. The gloves bring a new creative dimension to music performance, enabling musicians to create the movements that perform their music. I can’t wait to see what people will do with the technology.”

Imogen Heap, who uses the gloves as part of her performances, said: “So happy that we are finally able to extend the incredible superhuman feeling of having music in our hands out to a wider audience. You just have to remember to open your eyes during a performance, as it becomes so second nature!”
Adam Stark, Managing Director of MI.MU, said: “We are hugely proud to release the MI-MU gloves to musicians everywhere, and we can’t wait to see what they do with them.

“They are the result of years of research and development into new ways to compose and perform music. We believe they will enable musicians to discover new forms of expression, leading to new ideas, new performances and, ultimately, new forms of music.”

Featured researcher Dr Tom Mitchell

Tom is a Lecturer in computer music in the department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies at UWE Bristol.

Email: Tom.Mitchell@uwe.ac.uk

Phone: +4411732 83349

Network for Creative Enterprise: a few highlights of achievements, challenges, learning and what next.

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In this blog post, Network Producer Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt shares an update on one of UWE Bristol’s ERDF funded programmes -Network for Creative Enterprise (NfCE).

NfCE is made up of four hubs across Bristol and Bath: Watershed, The Guild (Coworking Bath), Knowle West Media Centre and Spike Island.

Each hub has offered residency opportunities with free space and a package of business development support. By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication to creative technology, the network has been better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the creative sector.

Network for Creative Enterprise has enabled the partners to offer tailored events, workshops and mentoring for individuals and small enterprises to support their business development from the idea stage through to start-up and on to growth.
Over the duration of the project 138 creatives have worked at the hubs and have engaged in 35 creative development workshops and other learning opportunities.

The NfCE partnership and supported programme finishes at the end of June 2019 with an Exhibition called ‘Another Way Works: an exhibition of creative business journeys. Find out more about the exhibiton and how to get involved here.

I am the Network Producer for NfCE at Watershed in Bristol and presented recently to producers of similar projects and the Department for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport as part of Arts Council England’s Creative Local Growth Fund away day. I talked about some of our achievements and learnings and thought it would be good to also share them here (although turning a talk into a blog post is a much harder task than I imagined).

NfCE is a network working in partnership between the UWE Bristol and four West of England hubs: The Guild co-working space in Bath and three Bristol hubs: Spike Island, KWMC The Factory and Watershed. NfCE is funded by Arts Council England and the European Regional Development Fund.

The partnership finishes at the end of June 2019. To explain a little about how we work: each hub has a producer and offers business support for creative individuals and micro companies to develop their creative idea into an economically sustainable enterprise, they are also offered free space for the duration of the programme.

Our support is shaped in two ways:
1) a pre-planned programme, including business mentoring sessions, law and tax clinics, business development bursaries and producer support.
2) a highly flexible and evolving strand of activity consisting of workshops, intensive courses and bespoke support which is responsive to residents’ needs.

Just like most worthwhile experiences in life, the success of this programme has people at the heart of it. As this resident at KWMC The Factory who has recently cut down her salaried days in order to build her own jewellery and exhibition business reflects:

“NfCE has been more to me than access to amazing facilities, information and funding. It has helped me connect with like-minded people and it’s really changed my working life being able to bounce ideas around and get inspired! I’m very proud to be part of a network with such talented and supportive residents and staff alike!”

Network for Creative Enterprise has all sorts of impact, but I think the two key achievements are:
1) Establishing a network of organisations who are all working towards a common talent development programme with the ability to share learning in real time.

Some of the hubs we are working with didn’t have mature residency programmes and the programme has enabled a more robust offering with good sharing and co-working practices thereby strengthening the talent support capacity in the region (which is the West of England). By bringing together expertise from fine art to fabrication and creative technology, we are better equipped to share resources and provide business development opportunities to the growing freelance and micro-enterprise ecology within the cultural and creative sector.

2) Creating a network of peers to support each other that will outlast the project.

We currently have 138 active residents across the hubs and over 900 people participating in wider activity. They are increasingly active in forging peer to peer relationships as our activities invite residents to the different hubs, allowing for more cohesion between the physical locations and the opportunities we each have to offer. Peer support networks are a strong focus area for our final activity on the programme.

Naturally, this complex project has a series of challenges, but I think the two main challenges are:

1) Metrics

Although, reasonably, we are asked to measure impact (in this case in the form of progress against targets) in order to justify our funding, this can be hard in our sector. Most notably, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) defines a job as nothing less than a year long, full time contract (or two part-time posts equivalent) which is difficult to reconcile with the broader economic realities in the cultural and creative sector.

34% of the creative industry workforce is made up of freelancers. A snapshot of a part of our community shows that the majority of people are working upwards of 20 hours per week on their own business and are paying themselves a base salary in most cases, but not enough to be recognised as a job by ERDF. A smaller group have PAYE staff but typically for two or three days per week on a six-month contract which, again, does not count. Moreover, during this project most residents, businesses or sole traders, are hiring or have hired temporary freelancers amounting to hundreds of days of work but zero ‘jobs’ by the official definition.

Not being able to count the economic activity of the eco-system is unrepresentative and therefore a risk for the future funding of similar projects. We no longer live in an industrialised world, where linear rapid growth metrics apply. The creative sector with its high proportion of freelancers, so called ‘life style businesses’, cross sector collaborations and disruptive innovation is a complex mixed bag that deserves the right support at the right time to flourish.

2) Budget Inflexibility

To meet ERDF requirements the budgets for this project were very precisely created at the onset with specific activity and spend allocations. As explained, we structure the majority of our programme to be responsive to the needs and demands of our resident communities and hence some of the ideas we had at the beginning have needed to change to support development of the individual residents.

The inflexibility around budget categories and procurement thresholds means that we are regularly re-inventing the wheel around types of support as well as struggling to find capacity to produce new programmes that we would like to pay for.

We have not successfully overcome these challenges, but we have mostly found a compromise. We have shaped our programme to reach the targets we need, while working hard to protect the ability to create meaningful support. Despite the constraints we are over target on a range of categories, which is great for reporting purposes. In our world many of the residents have accelerated their businesses but it remains frustrating that this is not recognised by ERDF at present.

Clearly it is incredible and important that we have been given funding to create a programme like this and both ACE and ERDF teams have been nothing but brilliant in accommodating our programme needs, and working with a mixture of funders in collaboration is progressive. However, I also think it is important to highlight when some of the mechanisms around the funding criteria themselves do not work as well as they could do – for the sake of all of us working in the creative sector.

What is the most important lesson for us?

We are trying to support a complex ecosystem with diverse economic communities and hugely varying needs. Funding needs to be more flexible and more time needs to be built in to develop formats with participants.
We are working with people who are worried about registering with HMRC for taxes on one end of the scale, and people who need to set up a board because they have expanded their business so much on the other.
There are no linear pathways and hence we need to be as flexible as possible to allow us to offer the right support at the right time. That way we can really help businesses accelerate and grow.

The strength of the cultural sector is its diversity and therefore flexibility is vital.

What next?

On 6 June 2019 we will launch an exhibition ‘Another Way Works’ showcasing the unique maps of a selection of 12 creative business journeys that have taken place with support from Network for Creative Enterprise. This will be a chance to reflect on the programme and interrogate some of the business development stories in depth.

For most of June, the exhibition space at KWMC will become a place to share key learnings and insights from the NfCE programme, in the form of visual display and through a series of live events, including workshops. There will be activity for producers on these types of programmes as well as residents who enrol on these types of programmes. We will also focus on peer networks and signpost to other business support opportunities in the West of England.

The more we actively seek to recognise and celebrate difference, the more chance we have to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, networks and a vibrant creative ecosystem that is recognised for its economic worth as well as everything else.