Digital Northampton: ‘We’re just scratching the surface of exciting innovation here’

Naomi Watts, September 11, 2019 3 min read

A collaboration between Northamptonshire County Council, the University of Northampton and local digital businesses, Digital Northampton supports innovative digital businesses by helping to connect them and encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing across different sectors.

Digital Northampton is aiming to put Northamptonshire on the map for digital innovation – and social media has played a “big part”, according to project manager David Bevan. We spoke to Bevan to find out more.

What’s Digital Northampton’s story?

David Bevan: A number of people from different organisations, both public and private sector, had similar designs to bring Northamptonshire’s tech community together at the same time. We were fortunate that we were able to mobilise, get organised and we all get on well.

Social media is a big part of what we do. It’s helped us to build a community and show our passion for improving the local area. We have a really engaged audience who now interact with each other via social media thanks to the connections we have made.

Talk us through your team

We manage the web and digital team at Northamptonshire County Council. In our Digital Northampton roles, we meet with local businesses, organise events, run the social media and work on projects. We meet regularly with representatives from the university and a couple of local digital businesses, and we all bring something slightly different to the table so it’s a good blend of skills and expertise.

How are you helping your local tech ecosystem?

We run monthly knowledge-sharing events for the local tech community to get together and learn one area of digital innovation. For example, we’ve held talks on IoT and AR, with upcoming events on social media, e-learning and VR therapy. It’s important to us to keep the events free to attend so there are no barriers to anyone who wants to get involved and we’re always fully booked.

In June this year, we held a major event at the university’s award-winning new campus which brought together around 40 speakers and exhibitors and attracted over 300 people. We called this event Merged Futures to reflect our aim to share tech expertise across different sectors for the benefit of our local economy.

What excites you about what you do?

The amount of innovation we have uncovered in under a year and the opportunities we can create to help foster more in the future. In addition to our events, we have long-term objectives; we’re working with schools to encourage pupils with a passion for digital to think about ways to solve problems through emerging technologies.

In recent years, Northampton has seen a number of great social enterprises start up in the town. Lord Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, held a Social Echo conference in Northampton last November which showcased a lot of the good work here and encouraged us to kickstart Digital Northampton.

“Northamptonshire has historically struggled to make its voice heard at the national and global level, but we have a lot to shout about.”

What challenges face Northampton’s digital community?

Northamptonshire is often overlooked in wider conversations as it falls in the gap between the Midlands, East Anglia and regions to the south. Northamptonshire has historically struggled to make its voice heard at the national and global level, but we have a lot to shout about. Northamptonshire is an affordable place to live with beautiful countryside and good transport links to London, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge and Leicester.

It’s going to take hard graft, effective partnership working and following through on promises for local organisations to put Northamptonshire on the map for digital innovation. Digital Northampton is a big part of that, but we promote any good work in our area no matter who is doing it.

What’s on the horizon for you?

There are plenty of plans afoot. We’ve been encouraged by the buy-in from local people who have been waiting for something like this to happen.

We are pursuing the creation of a digital hub in Northampton, a physical location where small and growing digital businesses can work together on projects. This would be a space where we could organise events and training for everyone from digital beginners to tech entrepreneurs.

We are also speaking to global organisations based in our county about ways we can work together. Our objective is to create a local digital supply chain so organisations of all sizes use local digital companies for their needs, boosting the region and promoting the talent we have – as well as encouraging more people to move here.

Additionally, we are currently developing our website to become a virtual hub with a directory of digital businesses in our area and the potential to list jobs and events. It feels like we have just scratched the surface of the exciting, innovative work taking place in Northamptonshire and we’re enjoying the opportunity to shout about it.

Community, Midlands