A new partnership to turbo-charge research, innovation and enterprise in the south east’s horticultural, and food and drink industries has been launched.

Canterbury Christ Church University has joined Growing Kent & Medway to support growth in this critical sector for the UK, of which the region constitutes 40% to the country’s horticulture industry.

As part of the collaboration a new Industrial Agri-Engineering Hub, based at the University’s £65 million Verena Holmes Building, one of the largest STEM buildings in the south east, was launched. The Hub will complement and enhance Growing Kent & Medway’s existing activities for business-led research and innovation in the horticultural, and food and drink sector.

Drawing upon the University’s strengths and resources, the Hub will offer academic expertise in agri-engineering, automation and manufacturing, assistive technologies and applied data analysis and intelligence. As well as providing businesses with access to the University’s cutting-edge facilities.

Speaking at the launch event, Professor Mario Caccamo, CEO of NIAB, lead partner for Growing Kent & Medway, said: “We have achieved much in the last few years since starting Growing Kent & Medway, and now we are looking to the future. To find solutions for some of the grand challenges that we have in our food and agricultural sector. These include how we can produce food for future generations that is environmentally friendly, sustainable and nutritious.

“This new partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University gives us the added and important dimension of engineering. It means we now have a complete picture to support the region and a great partnership that brings together the innovation sector, education institutions and civil leadership; all the elements to become global leaders in this industry and we can look to the future with ambition and optimism.”

Staff from Canterbury Christ Church University and Growing Kent and Medway at the launch of the new Agri-Engineering Hub
LtoR: Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Vice-Chancellor, Dr Anne Nortcliffe, Head of the School of Engineering, Technology and Design, Abbie Kemp, Director of Enterprise and Engagement, Dr Nikki Harrison, Programme Director for Growing Kent & Medway, Professor Mohamed Abdel-Maguid, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Social Sciences and Pro Vice-Chancellor (STEM, Global Engagement and Internationalization) , Professor Mario Caccamo, CEO of NIAB, lead partner for Growing Kent & Medway.

This new collaboration also brings together all of Kent and Medway’s universities to provide a comprehensive range of scientific and engineering expertise, and capabilities for businesses. Supporting Growing Kent & Medway’s ambition for the south east to become a world-leading region in research and innovation for horticultural production, food processing, and climate-smart farming technologies.

Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, Professor Rama Thirunamachandran OBE DL, said: “We are delighted to launch this new partnership with Growing Kent & Medway, and welcome the opportunities it gives us to work together with local businesses and our neighbouring universities in Kent and Medway. When universities work together we can contribute much more to the region than we would otherwise be able to do in this very important area of industry. We look forward to working together on projects that support our commitment to purse social justice through sustainability, and research to support our communities.”

Professor Mohamed Abdel-Maguid, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Social Sciences and Pro Vice-Chancellor (STEM, Global Engagement and Internationalization), emphasised the importance of this development. He said: "The Covid-19 pandemic changed the world in many ways, but one of the main things that it brought to the surface is that growing, producing, and manufacturing locally is no longer a nice-to-have thing. It is a matter of national security. This new partnership, with the support of our regional councils and UK Research and Innovation, can support Growing Kent & Medway to lead the UK in sustainable, nutritious food production."

Home to the Agri-Engineering Hub, the Faculty of Science, Engineering, and Social Sciences stands as one of the most academically diverse institutions in the UK. Professor Abdel-Maguid elaborated on the vision, stating: "We are creating an environment that integrates scientists and engineers with experts from business, law, and other social sciences disciplines and give them the opportunities and first-class research facilities to work together to focus on solving the challenges our society faces, now and in the future.

“The Agri-Engineering Hub is part of our innovation ecosystem alongside our EDGE Hub, STEM Hub, the Data Lab, and the Community Labs. Providing Growing Kent & Medway with access to our Agri-Engineering hub will give them access to everything we offer at the University while enabling our students to work alongside industry experts solving real-world challenges as an integral part of their study to support them in becoming global leaders in their fields."

This partnership is poised to play a pivotal role in propelling Kent and Medway to the forefront of sustainable, nutritious food production, fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and local government. This forward-thinking initiative underscores the University's commitment to addressing the pressing challenges of our time while preparing the next generation of leaders to shape a more sustainable and secure future.

Further information about the Industrial Agri-Engineering Hub can be found on the Growing Kent & Medway website.