‘Growing Kent & Medway’, a project focused on strengthening the competitiveness of Britain’s horticulture, food and drink industries, has been awarded £18 million in funding under the UK Government’s ‘Strength in Places’ scheme.
Building on over a century of agricultural research in Kent, the project aims to turbo-charge the research, innovation and enterprise environment to boost growth in this critical sector for the UK. The project will establish Kent and Medway as a world-leading region for the climate-smart production and processing of high-value, nutrient-rich foods and plant-based products.
As part of a consortium of partners, the University of Greenwich’s contribution to ‘Growing Kent and Medway’ draws on the University’s strengths in crop protection, post-harvest storage, value addition and food innovation at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), with other inputs from the wider Faculty of Engineering and Science.
Led by NIAB EMR, a horticultural research organisation based in East Malling, Kent, ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ will promote the adoption of the latest horticultural technologies, plant growing techniques and the development of new and exciting crops to boost food production and economic growth, including the construction of new science facilities. The project will also strengthen the region’s food processing, handling, distribution and value addition industries. Research capacity and co-invested industry engagement will be strengthened to drive innovation, commercialisation and sector development. As part of this project, a major focus of NRI’s work will be to launch a new food innovation facility to support food industries in Medway and Kent.
Announcing the funding, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, said:
“Today’s announcement will ensure some of our country’s most promising R&D projects get the investment they need to take off and thrive.
“Working with the private sector our world-class universities, we’re backing new and innovative ideas that will create jobs and boost skills in every part of the UK for years to come.”
Professor Mario Caccamo, Managing Director of NIAB EMR, added: “Growing Kent & Medway can now get to work to consolidate this part of the UK as the leading region for the production and processing of high-value foods. This project is particularly significant as we look to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, and address some of the most pressing challenges faced by the agricultural sector. It would not have been possible to successfully reach the final stage of this very competitive scheme without our partners, the support of the Kent and Medway Councils and our local MPS, who have collectively recognised the significance of what the excellent scientific and research programmes can do for the regional economy. We will drive inclusive wealth creation so that untapped human capital can contribute to, and share in the region's prosperity.”
Professor Jane Harrington, Vice Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, said, “I am delighted that the skills and expertise of our Natural Resources Institute and Faculty of Engineering and Science are being applied to the horticulture and food industries to drive economic growth in Kent and Medway.”
Christian Brodie, Chairman of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, which backed the bid to government, said: “Our area already delivers 40% of high-value horticulture in the UK. Growing Kent & Medway will drive innovation and productivity, meaning we can now expand the sector, strengthen supply chains and existing businesses, and create sustainable new ones.”
The Growing Kent & Medway project brings together a world-class consortium of businesses and academic institutions, including APS Produce, Berry Gardens Growers, Chapel Down, Geku Automation, Gusbourne Estate, Richard Hochfeld Group, NIAB EMR, Smurfit Kappa, Thanet Earth, Worldwide Fruit, the University of Kent, and the Natural Resources Institute (NRI)/University of Greenwich. The project is also backed by the local civic leadership with partners from the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership and Locate in Kent.
Additional supportive comments:
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, said: “I am delighted that the Government’s commitment to supporting nationally important industries and strengthening ties between academia, research and business is demonstrated by its multi million-pound investment in NIAB East Malling Research. This will transform the work they do and helps promote all that the village has to offer.”
Cllr Nicolas Heslop, Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, said: “The Borough Council is absolutely delighted that this consortium’s bid to the Strength in Places Fund has been successful. It is a fantastic reward for all the hard work that partners have undertaken over a period of many months, and it will really give a significant shot in the arm to the horticultural sector in Kent.
“The fact that NIAB EMR are the Lead Partner for this project is a fine illustration of the drive and commitment that they have to make the East Malling Research Station site a world leader with state-of-the-art facilities. As a strategic partner, we will continue to campaign for further investment into this site, especially Local Growth Funding, which would help deliver an energy centre and new greenhouses to meet the high standard needed for research purposes.”
Geoff Miles, Chairman of the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP), said: “Research, development and innovation is critical in underpinning productivity growth. A key factor in the bid’s success was undoubtedly the ability of NIAB EMR to bring together a wide consortium of partners with different skills to work towards a common goal.
“The current pandemic has shown how much every citizen relies on the UK’s food and drink industry. Alongside the wonderful work of the NHS and caring professions, COVID-19 has exposed how vital local food production is, from the farmers in their fields, to the seasonal agriculture workers, to the delivery supply chains, and to the grocery shops.
“The Growing Kent and Medway project will deliver an uplift in the economy of Kent & Medway through inclusive and innovation-led industry growth.”