Sussex Innovation has made a successful bid to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) to refurbish its centre on the University of Sussex campus and accommodate COVID-safe operations.

The investment of £200,000, matched with £100,000 of Sussex Innovation’s own budget, will enable the University of Sussex-owned business incubator to accelerate its ongoing investment in improvements to facilities, services and COVID-secure measures, and provide for a new market demanding flexible and affordable workspace.

The improvements are expected to attract more growing businesses to the building and facilitate others’ safe returns to work, as the Centre’s start-up community recovers from the economic impact of lockdown.

The funding is part of a Government initiative, announced through a call through LEPs across the country, for ‘shovel ready’ projects to help promote economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-four such projects are kicking off across the South East region, with eight in East Sussex, thanks to the Government’s new Getting Building Fund. These will create more than 9,000 jobs across the region, starting almost immediately, to accelerate economic recovery.

Nigel Lambe, CEO of Sussex Innovation, said: “We are incredibly honoured to have received this grant. It’s a real win for us and the local business community as we can now update our facilities to better serve their needs. By using this money to make our building more COVID-safe, we can welcome back members and open our doors to new businesses in the area looking to return to an office.”

Professor Stephen Shute, Chair of the Sussex Innovation Board and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources) at the University of Sussex, said: “This timely award will enable us to help more emerging businesses respond quickly to the new challenges thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sussex Innovation is a growth engine for our region’s many exciting new businesses and these improvements will have a real and immediate impact on their success and, by extension, contribute to the success of the wider regional economy.”

Sussex Innovation hopes to encourage more businesses to return to the building through a series of improvements – including capitalising on its location in an area of outstanding natural beauty by renovating its outdoor space overlooking the Sussex Downs National Park. Technology in meeting spaces will be upgraded for better remote conferencing, helping teams continue a blended return to work. With many still wary of commuting via public transport, facilities such as bike racks and showers will be refurbished in a bid to encourage more people to cycle to work.

Furthermore, following a decline in demand for permanent office space as a result of the pandemic, Sussex Innovation will be adapting its workspaces for more flexible co-working facilities. This will coincide with the launch of a new Sussex Stars scheme, providing businesses with easy-access facilities, such as meeting rooms and co-working spaces, for their teams. This scheme offers start-ups and freelancers the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ and see the new facilities first-hand.

Nigel added: “Our bid was secured in an incredibly short space of time. It required strong communication that built upon the great relationships between all parties involved. It is a prime example of the strong partnership between both the University and Sussex Innovation colleagues, East Sussex County Council, Team East Sussex and SELEP.”

Councillor Keith Glazier, Leader of East Sussex County Council, said: “This funding is fantastic news and comes at exactly the right time to help businesses who face unprecedented challenges as they recover from the effects of the Covid-19 crisis and the restrictions put in place.

“Not only will the funding help to safeguard jobs, it will create new positions, which will be welcome news for those people facing redundancy due to the uncertainty caused by the global pandemic.”

Graham Peters, chair of Team East Sussex, the federated growth board to the SELEP, said: “We are delighted by this additional funding which will quickly enable a whole range of exciting projects in areas of real interest across the county.

“These projects reflect the breadth and variety of the East Sussex economy and demonstrate some real innovation, sustainably building on our quality of life and skills base. Crucially they will all aid the county in its recovery from Covid-19.”

The other projects in East Sussex, which will be delivered over the next 18 months, include the conversion of a building in Newhaven to create commercial space for marine sector businesses, the restoration of a Victorian pavilion in Eastbourne’s Winter Gardens and the creation of retail, leisure, office and community space in the Observer Building in Hastings.