Barnsley sets its sights on 21st century innovation
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 October 2013
Enterprise is the watchword in this forward-thinking South Yorkshire town, as Jo Haywood discovers
Barnsley people have always liked to keep busy. But where once they poured their energies into coal mining and glassmaking, now they have their sights firmly set on 21st century innovations. Just bob your head round the door of the town’s Digital Media Centre and you’ll find no less than 42 highly creative modern businesses, from app developers and digital marketers to design companies and video producers. Then there’s the highly motivated Enterprising Barnsley project – a partnership between Barnsley Development Agency and Barnsley Business & Innovation Centre – which supports local businesses with the aim of enabling them to hit their maximum growth potential.
It’s backed financially by the EU and has attracted more than £2 million from the European Regional Development Fund.
The project has also brought key business brains to town to encourage and inspire fledgling entrepreneurs. Nick Robertson OBE, co-founder and chief executive of ASOS, the huge online retailer whose 530,000 sq ft distribution hub is based in Barnsley, was the headline speaker just last month at the Connected Business Conference.
This free event, organised by Tracey Johnson, Enterprising Barnsley’s creative and digital industry specialist, encouraged and advised local companies on utilising online tools and resources to benefit their business.
‘Every business needs to consider how to take best advantage of digital resources to secure future success and growth in the digital economy,’ she explained.
The town is also investing in its young entrepreneurs and innovators with a new £3.6 million specialist engineering centre at Barnsley College, offering high-tech workshops, lab facilities and computer-aided learning zones for research and development.
‘We’re delighted that this development enables us to continue to provide world class facilities for our students,’ said Andrew Fairest, vice principal for property development. ‘This excellent teaching and learning environment fully supports our course provision and the specialist engineering tradition of South Yorkshire.’
And it’s not just the innovation and technology sector that’s enjoying a boost, retail sales in Barnsley have also recorded a small but very welcome three per cent bump this year.
‘We’re blessed with an excellent retail offer and a dynamic town centre of excellent independent shops run by passionate, hard-working owners who are proving every day that small can be profitable even in these challenging times,’ said George Elliott of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce.
‘These figures are good news, although it’s early days and retailers must still keep abreast of new technologies and continue to invest in their employees to ensure that when the projected sustained upturn occurs, they are in a strong position to take advantage of it.’