Lancashire/Morecambe Hotspots: Give and tech

By Ged Henderson

01 Dec 2023

Leighton Hall

Our tour of Lancashire’s hotspots has brought us to the very north of the county. We visited Leighton Hall near Carnforth to talk to business, academic and political leaders from the Lancaster and Morecambe district about the issues on their agendas.

Lancaster – both city and district - is widely recognised as a hotspot of tech innovation and entrepreneurship, a place where start-ups flourish.

That recognition was underlined by the announcement last month that Lancaster University is to lead a new £1.2m project which will see cutting-edge cyber security research transformed into real-world products.

The new North West Cyber Security Connect for Commercialisation (NW CyberCom) project will see six universities capture the latest cyber security innovations.

Together with entrepreneurs, investors, government and businesses, the knowledge will be transformed into innovative new products, services and policy, to better protect consumers, businesses and UK infrastructure.

Lancaster’s leading role emphasises its continued importance in the development of a ‘cyber corridor’ across the north. It follows the university’s recent £19m investment into security and protection science.

Meanwhile, Lancashire’s Electech Innovation Cluster, centred round the Morecambe Bay area, is rapidly becoming recognised as an international hub of high-tech electronic engineering.

Dan Knowles is the cluster’s manager overseeing day to day operations. His company, Northern Reach, delivers several innovation ecosystem projects. He says: “The Lancaster and Morecambe district is the hotbed of innovation talent across the whole of the North West, outside the major conurbations.”

And he points to the area’s success in attracting funding from the government’s Innovative UK agency as evidence of that.

Dan says: “We have a lot of money that naturally comes to Lancaster because of our tech business start-ups, many of which are built around the university and the knowledge that comes out of there.

“But we have a collection of digital tech, electronic, electech and other businesses that just add to that story.

“The Electech Innovation Cluster is still in its early days but we’re already being referenced right across the north of England as an exemplar of a group of businesses that have come together and created an environment that allows us to support one another and grow, and to encourage the next generation of innovation-led electronic businesses.”

He adds: “We are seeing a huge amount of inward investment coming in now. There are people in venture capital from London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds who are looking at our enterprise, our innovation, and saying ‘wow’.

“There are thinkers here, it’s a hotbed, there is some really exciting stuff going on.”

Matt Wright is head of partnerships and engagement for regional innovation at the university. He describes Lancaster as “research intensive” and says: “If you have a lot of teachers, researchers, students, you have a lot of thinking and ideas flowing in the community, and that underpins that ecosystem.”

He adds: “We have to be aware that there will always be a certain amount of competition from places like Manchester.

“We need to think really cleverly, which we’re trying to do, around how we suck some of that activity away through things like the cyber corridor to move economic activity over to this part of the world.”

Business leaders in the area point to its geography and its sense of community as other plus points when it comes to starting and growing businesses in the district.

Tarnia Elsworth, vice president of Lancaster and Morecambe chamber of commerce and director of TP Financial Solutions, says: “One of the key things is the collaborative way that the people who live here want to work.

“We started our business completely from scratch, not really knowing anybody, and in the last four years we’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people who all want the best for our district.

“And I’ve got to say that the civic responsibility that people feel around here is a real sense of pride for me. We have a set of businesspeople that aren’t out just to line their own pockets, they’re out to make our district the best that it can be. Everybody you meet wants to collaborate for the greater good.”

Jenny Pape, Lancaster based tax partner at accountancy group Azets, agrees. She says: “It’s a place where people want to be. There is a really loyal crowd who want to be in the area, who are committed to civic duty and responsibility.

“They want their families to grow up in an environment and a city and district that is supportive and collaborative and really cares about everything that’s going on locally.”

Lucy Arthurs, who manages the Leighton Hall estate, set in glorious north Lancashire countryside, sees the natural environment and the work-life balance it can offer as another strong selling point for the area.

She adds: “People are starting to realise this is a really funky place to come to. We have skillsets and we’ve a huge variety of businesses here, engineering, energy companies, tourism and tech. And a lot of youngsters are keen and eager to get into business.”

Dan Knowles also spells out the advantages Lancaster , Morecambe and their surrounding communities have when it comes to attracting investment. He says: “We are in a unique location, there is access to really good universities, really good skills, and it’s a great place to live, on the doorstep of the Lakes.

“But there is also the national geography. It sits in the very centre of the UK, it’s on the West Coast Mainline and it sits on the M6. It is a couple of hours to Euston and a couple of hours to Glasgow so the geography just makes it a really ideal place.”

Ian Steel, whose job title is ‘keeper of the flame’ at his family-run business Atkinsons Coffee Roasters, returned to Lancaster after two decades away.

He says: “What attracts people to the area or attracts them to return are its beautiful built environment and the natural environment all around.”

There is also its heritage, Atkinsons has an outlet in Lancaster’s imposing, historic castle which is a major visitor attraction.

However Ian, who talks about the engagement people have with his business which can trace its history back to 1837, says, “Lancaster isn’t just about heritage, it’s about what we’re doing with that and using the heritage as something that we can retrofit.”

Like Dan Knowles, Darren Chaisty, co-founder of Heysham based North Star Projects, a consultancy focused on supply chain change, sees the area’s transport links as a major plus-point.

He would like to see that strength used to attract more businesses and inward investment. He says: “I feel like a lot of the time we’re all doing business with each other, we’re all keeping ourselves going, we’ve talked with a lot of the same people in the city.

“It would be wonderful to see many more people coming here to do business with us and if we could start pulling people closer just so everybody could see how great it is.”

He points out that Heysham is just ten minutes from the motorway network and adds: “We talk a lot about that when we are travelling out of the area, we don’t talk enough about it from the point of view of travelling in.

“I want people to come and do business here with us and work with us and make it that place that not only our young people don’t want to leave but young people from other places want to come. We have that opportunity.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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