Professor Damian Walford Davies is Cardiff University’s recently appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He is leading the delivery of a new enterprise that brings together cutting-edge research, business partners, policy-makers, spinouts and start-ups. Here, Professor Walford Davies talks about his vision for sbarc | spark – and how it can help to generate social and economic prosperity in Wales.
“When the doors of sbarc | spark open at the end of the year, it will bring together start-ups, spinouts, SMEs and entrepreneurs alongside social science researchers and professional business services to turn ideas into new ways of working and real-world interventions.
The new building has the capacity to bring together around a thousand people in diverse but powerfully connected groups.
sbarc | spark will be the University’s ‘front door’ to business and wider society, a route to a more collaborative research culture that promotes interaction across disciplines alongside external partners: a multi-functional building combining offices, labs, workshops and exhibition facilities with flexible hot-desking and creative and social meeting spaces.
The building will house two brand-new, complementary enterprises: the world’s first Social Science Research Park, SPARK, which co-locates 13 expert groups of Cardiff social science researchers alongside research collaborators and policy-making, policy-delivering and knowledge exchange partners; and CardiffInnovations@sbarc, where partner organisations will become creative tenants, bringing ideas and assets to the table, generating economic and social value.
In these two interconnected spaces, our staff and students will work with public, private and third sector partners to tackle urgent social problems, translating our leading research into social solutions and into interventions in government policy.
The need to embrace a creative vision is a trait we share with our key collaborators and funders post-COVID-19. Cardiff will become a ‘living laboratory’ where evidence-based policy and innovations in practice can be co-created, trialled and evaluated, with creativity and collaboration as key principles.
sbarc | spark has been conceived and developed with feedback from business, charities, governments and funders. It will be home to researchers from all three of our Colleges. This is key. sbarc | spark is not a closed shop, a social science silo for the chosen few. An environment for open dialogue between – and beyond – the social sciences, it will foster, support and encourage out-of-the-ordinary creative thinking (call it innovation) and interactions among a diverse community of academics, business partners, students, policy makers and social advocates.
In this sense it will complement the Medicentre, the business incubator for bio- and med-tech startups – clinical innovation – on the Heath Park campus.
Cardiff has been turning ideas into products, services and processes for over a century. In my new role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I’ll be overseeing a portfolio of activities and enterprises that sustain this creative drive including estates, strategic planning, the sustainable development of the University and liaison with Welsh Government and other external bodies.
All these elements are vitally interrelated – enabling us to turn research ideas into transformative answers.
When its double doors open into its glass-walled foyer, and our first tenants join us, the building’s Event Space will be an agora for pitches and presentations on tomorrow’s ideas from our greatest resource: people.
Researchers will be at work in breakout zones, in seminar rooms and at the Policy Library – that shared archive of group knowledge, catalogued to prompt future projects. Conversations will buzz in the open-plan space that hosts the sbarc | spark team, colleagues from our outwardly facing professional services teams, and hotdesking visitors and advisors.
The great oculus – the building’s sculptural open staircase that unites seven storeys through a slanting void – connects our creativity. The steps to the first floor widen to act as a ‘social stair’ designed to enhance social interactions – a place to share thoughts (and good quality coffee), because ultimately, human exchange is key.
Research excellence, interdisciplinarity, sociability, and a partnership and enterprise culture: all fired by the inspiration sbarc | spark promises to ignite.”