Fareham Innovation Centre celebrates 80% occupancy

Pictured from left are guest speakers Chris Allington, Oxford Innovation's managing director, Councillor Seán Woodward, Fareham Borough Council's executive leader, and Gary Jeffries, chairman of Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

A flourishing innovation centre in Hampshire has been given an early Christmas present – news that it will be 80% full from December 1st.

Purpose-built Fareham Innovation Centre, which provides occupiers with advice and support to help them start and grow their businesses, launched just eight months ago and is located within the Solent Enterprise Zone.

To date 80 jobs, mainly from the marine, automotive, aerospace and engineering sectors, have been created at the award-winning £5.3m centre, with 16 businesses now on site and a further 20 local businesses regularly using the drop-in facilities.

There are 15 light-manufacturing workshops and 24 offices, from 200 sq ft to 800 sq ft, for between one to 10 people.

Launched in April, the brand-new centre is operated by Oxford Innovation, a leading operator of innovation centres,  on behalf of owner Fareham Borough Council.

Oxford Innovation, which looks after 20 centres, specialises in running facilities which combine office space and mentoring support for start-up and early-stage firms.

Located by the former military Daedalus airfield at Lee-on-the-Solent, the centre celebrated achievements with its inaugural Open For Business event. More than 100 people attended.

Guest speakers were Councillor Seán Woodward, Fareham Borough Council’s executive leader, Chris Allington, Oxford Innovation’s managing director, and Gary Jeffries, chairman of Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Mr Woodward told guests: “We agreed targets with Oxford Innovation, back in March, that the centre would be one-third occupied by this time. The amazing news is that we are now touching 80% occupancy, with something like 80 jobs we have been able to bring into the building.”

He added: “The directory board tells the tale – a fantastic number of companies have moved in here, specialising for the most part in advanced engineering, marine, aerospace and aviation. We look forward to the centre being at capacity in not too many months to come.”

Mr Allington said the extraordinary take-up, this fast, was unprecedented in his experience, apart from a centre the company is managing in the heart of Oxford.

He added: “We have to run buildings to do what we do, but that’s actually not what we are about – what we are about is supporting businesses here in the centre, here in the locality, to grow.

“Hopefully they will leave the centre when they get too large but stay in the district, keep growing and keep delivering jobs.

“This is just one of three centres in the Solent region – we need more capacity already and it is a lovely problem to have.

“The businesses who come here are part of the centre team, part of the community, and they will become the future. To them, I thank you for your trust and confidence.”

Detailing the regional picture, Mr Jeffries described how small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) have an ‘absolute critical part to play’ in driving economic growth right across the Solent area in the coming years.

He added: “The innovation centre is providing flexible space in the Enterprise Zone, providing a fantastic opportunity for SMEs to take advantage of the benefits the site brings.

“Our vision for the Enterprise Zone is to create a world-class hub for advanced manufacturing and technology within the marine, aerospace and aviation sectors.

“The innovation centre forms a key landmark in delivering this ambition, as does the £12m CEMAST Centre across the road from us.”

CEMAST – the recently-launched Centre of Excellence in Engineering & Manufacturing Advanced Skills Training – is the main learning centre for more than 900 students in apprenticeship programmes with partner companies such as BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Virgin Atlantic, Coopervision, Burgess Marine and Jensen Motorsport.

Having hit its three-year enrolment target students after just one year, Mr Jeffries said that CEMAST is now “our leading hub for STEM skills training, which will help provide the pipeline of skills our businesses need to increase growth and productivity in our local economy”.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths.

Mr Jeffries told guests that the Solent area is home to 1.3m people and more than 50,000 businesses; it is the largest urban economy in the South East, outside of London, anchored around the two cities of Portsmouth and Southampton.

Up to 150 new jobs are set to be created at the innovation centre after it was built by Fareham Borough Council with support from the Homes and Communities Agency.

Occupants enjoy various benefits, including a 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a five-year period for being within an Enterprise Zone.

Thanks to the achievements to date at the centre, the council earned plaudits from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). It was awarded the Most Innovative Small Business Friendly, Programme, Campaign or Project at the 2015 FBS awards.

After the event, Oxford Innovation’s Stephen Brownlie, Regional Manager (South), said: “News that Fareham Innovation Centre will be 80% full from December 1st is an early Christmas present for both the local and regional economy – the appetite for business space here is incredible.”