Have you ever wondered how you might spend £15m on regenerating your local area? On Wednesday 5th June, the University of Greenwich hosted an exciting event at the Medway campus as part of the ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ research, innovation and enterprise cluster. The cluster is bidding to win a grant to make this region one of the most dynamic, competitive and successful locations in the world for technology-driven horticultural production, food processing, and its supply chains.
Local businesses and entrepreneurs from across the food industry came to the Old Naval Officers’ Wardroom in Pembroke Building on the Medway campus, to hear what Growing Kent & Medway has achieved so far, and to share their ideas for research and development-led economic growth across the county. Their ideas and suggestions will inform and influence a unique opportunity to catalyse innovation and growth in the region through the Strength in Places Fund, a new competitive funding scheme that will support significant local clusters of research and innovation, based on local strengths.
Speakers at the event included Daniel Ratcliff, Skills & Employment Programme Manager at Medway Council and Jon Regan from the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership, who spoke of their respective support for the project. Gary Mack, from the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency, outlined their ongoing work supporting communities to be healthy and sustainable and developing enterprises which meet economic and social needs.
The session also benefitted hugely from two speakers who have made a success from their own start-up food businesses using local fresh produce. Alex Auger, aka The Juice Executive, began as a kitchen start up, with a small juicing machine and a passion for exceptional, fresh juice. The guests heard how since 2014, Alex’s commitment to producing cold pressed juice has driven the business to the success it is today. Alex spoke about the opportunities and challenges of growing a business in Medway.
Another local success story is that of Nimisha Raja, owner of Nim’s Fruit Crisps. Nimisha revealed how she began her crisps manufacturing business in her shed, upscaling to her garage a short while later and then finally becoming a conventional manufacturer. In November 2015, Nimisha finally set up her own factory in the heart of Kent with more than 80% of the fruit and veg used in her production line grown in Kent, with virtually zero waste.
The smaller breakout sessions that followed the speakers were lively and full of discussions on how to use the grant to catalyse growth in the sector and support local businesses like Nimisha’s and Alex’s. The invited guests were clearly inspired by their stories and were keen to share their own experiences and it’s safe to say that everyone was fired up to win that £15m grant.
The complimentary refreshments provided another opportunity to showcase just what this region has to offer with English sparkling wine and home-made shortbread topped with Kentish strawberries and cream. ‘Growing Kent and Medway’ plans to build on the already powerful base located in Kent and Medway to make this region one of the most dynamic, competitive and successful horticultural and Agri-tech places in the world.
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