Cultivating an innovation community and inspirational collision moments with the Golden Valley Development 

Since moving its operations to Cheltenham in 1951, GCHQ has been developing pioneering technologies and using its presence in the area to enable growth of a specialised community. Today, this technology ecosystem covers defence, national security, intelligence, communications and critical infrastructure.  

By 2026, Cheltenham Borough Council is looking to deliver a global platform for the UK’s growing cyber and national security tech ecosystem in Golden Valley. At the core of Golden Valley will be the National Cyber Innovation Centre (NCIC), the focal point of an open and collaborative approach for government, academia and industry to connect, collaborate and share knowledge.

In line with this, we held a working lunch through the NCSC Investors Forum to gather key Golden Valley Development stakeholders and engage them in a dialogue with local, national and global investors. Our aim was to help Golden Valley parties understand investors’ decision-making processes when evaluating opportunities in not just the cyber security sector, but in adjacent sectors from defence and national security.

We welcomed 27 attendees to Cheltenham where the session was hosted by Richard, the GCHQ’s Principal User for Golden Valley, and Saj Huq, Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Innovation at Plexal, as we connected a diverse audience, including:

  • National security representatives from the UK government 
  • Cheltenham Borough Council’s executive leadership team 
  • Colleagues from the NCSC and NSSIF 
  • Investors such as 10Eleven Ventures, Maven, Mercia, In-Q-Tel, Paladin Capital Group and angel investors 
  • The HBD Golden Valley project team 
  • Cyber ecosystem members, including Western Gateway and Cyber Cheltenham (CyNam) 
  • NCSC For Startups alumni 

Paul Minnis, Director of Major Developments & Regeneration at Cheltenham Borough Council, is leading the council’s operational work with its chosen development partner, HBD, in the delivery phase of the Golden Valley Development (including the National Cyber Innovation Centre).

Overseeing the scheme design, Paul is responsible for submission of planning applications and contractor selection to achieve a much-anticipated start on site. He has a firm focus on driving a financial return to the council through a highly sustainable development, with tangible social value for the local and wider community.

“The discussion was helpfully led by Plexal [and] worth attending to gain an insight into the views of investors, companies and other organisations in the sector,” Paul said. “Understanding these minds and motives will be important for us in securing occupiers to take space and for others to be more widely involved at the Golden Valley Development. We would welcome more sessions to develop this understanding and these relationships.”

Matt Bellshaw, Director, Head of Region and Golden Valley Lead at HBD, has a vision that Golden Valley isn’t just to construct buildings but to cultivate a community that values innovation, sustainability and quality of life. “I was delighted to share the latest developments at Golden Valley during Plexal’s recent NCSC Investor Forum lunch, with a range of attendees from investors, business leaders and government representatives,” Matt detailed.

“Our discussion centred around supporting business needs, areas of interest and investor requirements. Golden Valley is set to be a nexus for science and technology innovation with security at its heart.” He also stated the importance of the NCIC space is for “enabling inspirational collision moments, encouraging collaboration between different industries, organisations and individuals.”

The session presented opportunities for discussing how we’ll continue to build a world-class cyber innovation ecosystem and, with cyber security industry revenues exceeding £10bn in 2023 and employment in the sector over 52,000 professionals and growing, the importance of investing in and nurturing this sector cannot be underestimated. As the UK continues to prioritise cyber security initiatives, including through sustained cyber growth strategies, the potential for innovation and economic growth is immense.

However, the issue of finding the right technical and business talent was one of the recurring themes of the working lunch, with the cyber security skills gap being one of the distinct issues that participants unanimously agreed on. To be able to attract new talent, Golden Valley will play a vital role to enrich the ecosystem. Building a world-renowned hub in Cheltenham that runs research labs and co-creation programmes on selected industry challenges would fuel the creation of applications over a wide range of different technologies.

Steph Jary is the Deputy Director of Investment and Innovation for Western Gateway, a pan-regional partnership covering South Wales and Western England bringing together civic, academic and business leaders. In her role, Steph seeks to support activity in the area for sustainable growth and prosperity – and Golden Valley will be an important part of this work. “The investor lunch focusing on the Golden Valley Development was an excellent opportunity to meet really interesting and significant people involved in the creation, sustenance and promotion of cyber and innovation,” Steph shared.

Bringing new vitality through national and international researchers and collaborators increasingly calling Cheltenham their new homes, the community will be catalysed through new employment opportunities and a more rounded talent pipeline. But embracing Cheltenham’s existing heritage in hosting annual science, literature and music festivals, Golden Valley will also be the home of events, lectures, seminars and informal interaction for locals and visitors alike.

Richard, the GCHQ’s Principal User for Golden Valley introduced the National Cyber Innovation Centre, having said: “[It will] be built as the focal point of the Golden Valley campus, to provide an open and collaborative space for government, academia and industry to co-locate, network and share knowledge.”

The event also shed light on the evolving nature of work and entrepreneurship, with participants noting the increasing importance of relationships and partnerships in driving success. The Golden Valley Development presents a unique opportunity to redefine the UK’s innovation landscape, with a focus on sustainability, inclusivity, and collaboration. By leveraging Cheltenham’s expertise in cyber security and expanding into adjacent sectors, Golden Valley aims to secure the nation’s future by driving prosperity and growth on a national and international scale. 

Melissa Chambers, CEO and Co-founder of Sitehop, Harry Gough, COO of coc00n Cyber and Louis Holt, Co-founder and CEO at ESProfiler were the NCSC for Startups alumni who attended the event. As startup founders who have both benefitted greatly from their involvement in the Cheltenham ecosystem through the NCSC For Startups programme, their expertise in how to create the right conditions for entrepreneurship was particularly valuable.

“One never knows what to expect from gatherings like these,” Melissa explained. “I think the pace, content and conversation was great. I wish we had similar organisations and participation in the North. If that group in Cheltenham is really committed and will follow through with support, I can see [us] making a case to have a Sitehop presence there! Business is always about who you know and trust. Plus, I know we want to work with the UK government for security. We have the best and the UK should have the best.”

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