In April 2011, the idea was floated, of moving the Bristol SETsquared Centre out of the University of Bristol home to a location more ’embedded’ in the city and perhaps extending the scope, and therefore impact.
The notion of “Creative Harbour” was borne – a building, on the harbourside, that co-located a number of different, complementary, activities on different floors. Initial thoughts about these ‘Components’ were: a high-tech incubator, a creative incubator, a low carbon incubator, high-end teaching and collaboration space and a public innovation showcase.
This idea seemed to hit a few buttons and we played around with the idea for a while – talked to private investors, estate agents, university managers and the great and good. The conclusion? Great idea, not sure how to fund it
Out of the blue, came the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, and, in summer 2012, the possibility of using Brunel’s Old Station which had come into Bristol City Council ownership.
This seemed the perfect location – and building in which to create something new. The Engine Shed name was created over a few drinks at the SETsquared Christmas Drinks reception in December 2012, with some input from the new Mayor.
The Business Plan was written over a weekend in January 2013, and the £1.7m refurbishment contract was placed in April, with the University committing £250k, the City Deal another £250k and the Council providing the rest. Phase 1 (The Bristol SETsquared Centre installed on the top floor) was complete bang-on schedule on 29 July and the building will be complete by 1 December 2013.
The Business Model is such that The Science Research Foundation (SRF), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Bristol, has a 15 year lease on the Engine Shed and operates the whole building, as well as the Bristol SETsquared Centre, commercially to make a surplus.
That surplus is split three ways: some to the Council as rent, some stays with SRF to fund the SETsquared activity and the rest is used to create a ‘fund’ for investing in the building and running events, workshops and outreach activities that stimulate economic activity for the long term in and around the Engine Shed.
Engine Shed was formally opened on 2 December 2013 with the Business Lounge opening on 4 December, less than a year after the business plan was written – quite a feat for such an innovative and collaborative project, with 3 different sources of public money in such a sensitive and complicated building.
Quite a statement of how entrepreneurial the Bristol and Bath community can be.