The new haphazard Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) innovation hub will quietly open this month in the English coastal town of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, a location that reflects in microcosm, many of the issues the UK suffers today outside of the big cities.
End of a Journey
Following months of travelling Southern England, attending numerous events, seminars and meeting, speaking with experts in the field, watching videos, listening to podcasts and visiting industrial museums and other places of interest, the town of Great Yarmouth has been chosen as the location for the first (4IR) innovation hub.
Great Yarmouth: UK In Microcosm
Great Yarmouth offers a blend of factors that reflect many of the issues affecting the UK today. The town has struggling retail, housing and employment sectors, increasing health and ageing concerns and lack of sustainable business investment. However, Great Yarmouth has the most welcoming of population and appears blessed with a dynamic local council, which seems determined to stem the decline of this once most prosperous of places. In addition, the town may have a once in a generation opportunity to re-invent itself using a possible boon from expanding offshore wind energy.
Great Yarmouth has the potential to provide a real insight into how the 4IR will develop in the UK over the coming decades, far away from the tech hubs of Old Street Roundabout and the Cambridge Corridor. At present, there is increasing concentration of power, money and technology talent in specific locations, yet every part of the country will feel the impacted of the 4IR. So what conditions are required for towns like Great Yarmouth to ensure they are not being left completely behind?
Setting The Scene
Artificial Intelligence (AI) acceleration is surprising even experts, as real-world applications become established across all sectors, from heavy industry to care-in- the-home packages. Predicting how the economy and daily life will transform in 5-years is only guesswork (APPG AI); posing risks for entrepreneurs in understanding market demand and direction, and potential rich reward as supply chains become vulnerable to disruption. Response of policymakers, funders and investors to create favourable conditions for a new generation of entrepreneurs to thrive will be challenging. In trendy ‘Tech Cities’, this is in motion; meanwhile, many fading seaside resorts seem oblivious, with chip shops, amusements and tribute performances.
The 4IR may amplify existing inequality, sharpening the divide between those with power and those without, piling further downward pressure on struggling town centres. However, wealth may distribute more widely if stakeholders in struggling locations, like Great Yarmouth, step beyond conventional thinking and “throw their efforts behind diversification” (House of Lords’, P23). With fast links to prosperous tech clusters lacking, a unique proposition to attract entrepreneurs building scalable firms is required to change fortunes.
A 10-year window has potentially opened for Great Yarmouth with a bounty from offshore wind investment. Could any bonanza become a lure for entrepreneurs to invigorate this coastal population with lucrative, meaningful employment, and create the conditions for future prosperity, while shifting reliance away from the fickle day-tripper market? The innovation hub seeks to find out over the coming 12months.
Please leave comments and thoughts below, thanks, John.
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, Learning to Learn: The Future-Proof Skill, London: Big Innovation Centre, 2018. Print.
House of Lords, Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, The future of seaside towns. London: Report of Session 2017–19, 4 April 2019, Print.