Creation of a ‘living lab’ will promote the best of health

The Olympic Legacy Park will give the local population, including school pupils, the opportunity to take part in research
The Olympic Legacy Park will give the local population, including school pupils, the opportunity to take part in research
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Ten years ago a vision of advanced manufacturing was born on the former Orgreave site just off the M1 in South Yorkshire.

The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre – the AMRC – was a move on many levels to unite research and industry.

In so doing it brought about a sea change in attitudes to engineering and manufacturing, but in a way which is so typical of the Sheffield City Region: working together in a straightforward way to get the job done.

And now, once again, the Sheffield City Region is drawing on this culture of partnership, bringing together academia and industry – this time to revolutionise approaches to health and wellbeing by capturing the passion that inspired the London 2012 Olympics. The vision of the Olympic Legacy Park (OLP) is being rapidly realised as buildings appear and landscapes are constructed. Similar to the AMRC, the OLP brings new life to an area where there was once traditional heavy industry – in this case the sprawling works of Brown Bayley Steels.

And the link with the AMRC is reinforced by the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District which stretches across the two centres of excellence. Dubbed a ‘living lab’, the park aims to create synergy between active sport, health studies, and wellbeing research.

At its heart it will have an Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, hosting 50 research academics and PhD students, and delivered in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University. The facility will support talented engineers and researchers as they design new products and services from initial concept all the way through to market.

Companies, including global technology leader Toshiba and leading health insurer Westfield Health, are already investing in collaborative research and innovations at the park. Toshiba has signed a deal to provide cutting-edge equipment worth approximately £1.5bn for the wellbeing centre.

A commercial income will also be provided by offices and a 50-bed hotel for the elite gymnasts using the English Institute of Sport will provide a commercial income.

Born from a partnership of the public and private sectors, the OLP sits prominently between the large local populations of Darnall and Attercliffe in Sheffield, and the thousands who use the nearby artery roads.

It will provide opportunities for participation in sport, and for research into health and the technologies that support it. The local population, including children in the Oasis Academy primary school which is already onsite, will have the opportunity to take part in its research.

Furthermore, an additional 600 pupils will be enrolled at the second Sheffield University Technical College due to open in October, and will specialise in human sciences and computing.

In addition to some of the finest outdoor areas in the UK, including the Peak District and Sherwood Forest, the Sheffield City Region will now boast a multi-purpose, 3,000-seat indoor community arena which will be home to the Sheffield Sharks semi-professional basketball squad. There will be a state-of-the-art artificial pitch for the Sheffield Eagles rugby club and the local community with a 2,500-seat stand.

The two first private sector partners, Toshiba and Westfield Health, are working closely with the team that is getting the OLP up and running. Project director David Hobson says it’s an example of the can-do business culture and smooth regulatory environment in the Sheffield City Region which made the region’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre such a success.

“But what makes us different,” he says, “is that we are about people. We are so proud to have local Olympic champions like Jessica Ennis-Hill and Nicola Adams. We’re going to be providing world-class facilities for elite athletes.

“And we’re looking at large numbers coming on site to enjoy watching sport in the evenings and weekends: the Sheffield Eagles attract 5,000 attendees at matches, and the Sheffield Sharks up to 3,000.”

A new study by Sheffield Hallam University adds weight to the belief taking part in sport provides both an economic and social value. The research by the university’s Sports Industry Research Centre found that in 2013/14, £23bn was spent on participation in sport in England – and it produced economic benefits totalling £45bn.

The report can be read at www.shu.ac.uk/research/sirc/news/social-return-investment-sport.