What is the Golden Valley development in Cheltenham exactly? The description on the organisation’s website says: “A vibrant and pioneering garden community, integrating hi-tech businesses with new homes and community uses, alongside the highest standards of environmental sustainability, design and place-making.” And on that tech aspect, the one million square foot Golden Valley site is situated just 100 metres from GCHQ’s Doughnut.
This is a very exciting prospect for us at Plexal, a business committed to closing the gap between organisations and using science and technology to deliver national security and prosperity. We’ve worked in Cheltenham for several years as the innovation partner to the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) and acquired a majority shareholding in Hub 8, the Cheltenham-based network of co-working spaces for businesses in the cyber tech, digital and creative sectors earlier this year.
So we’re pleased to hear that Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) has been provisionally awarded £20m “to help supercharge the first phase of the national cyber innovation centre at the heart of the Golden Valley Development.” Provided by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, CBC’s Councillor Max Wilkinson says this “…will build on our town’s strength as a centre for cyber and technology” and “…deliver jobs and prosperity for local people.”
Given how significant this milestone is for the town, the region, but also the country, Plexal CEO Andrew Roughan has joined Chris Baxter on BBC Gloucestershire to discuss the funding and what it means for citizens and businesses alike.
Andrew started by breaking down what a cyber capital is, detailing: “A cyber capital is a cluster that’s built around a particular technology area, in this case, cyber security – taking advantage of the great heritage that Cheltenham’s got and building on that for the future of how technology develops and, hopefully, building a great economy and a safer society around it.”
Pointing to the GCHQ base as an example of local heritage, Chris followed up to explore Andrew’s knowledge of Cheltenham and Plexal’s connection to the Golden Valley development. “We’re an innovation company focused on government-led innovation, particularly in the areas of cyber security and national security,” Andrew began. “As a result of that our largest client is the National Cyber Security Centre, where we run a programme called NCSC For Startups. [This involves] helping startups engage with the technology minds of government, but also the marketplace that government presents itself. We also partnered with Cheltenham Borough Council on developing the vision for Golden Valley so today’s a really proud moment for us.”
Underlining the £20m sum, Chris was interested to understand how that will translate into the breadth of the Golden Valley project, including the people and skills required for the area. Set to generate 12,000 jobs and create 3,700 homes, Andrew declared: “It really is a very large development and really exciting for the county, the region and the town.” He added that the project could easily go on for another ten to 15 years before reaching maturity, which is why the government investment is so key. “It gives everyone in the ecosystem confidence that the project is now underway – it’s now well-funded and the stimulus to get it all started is in place.”
Chris noted the significant number of job opportunities expected for the area and questioned whether we have enough people available with the necessary skills as it stands. “Definitely not,” Andrew stated, “and that’s kind of the point. Where Golden Valley is pointed, and indeed the cyber security industry at large, is about the jobs of the future. So, it’s about the technologies that are nascent now, the technologies that are developing which we can almost not imagine what they will become.”
Andrew highlighted generative AI as one example of technology that’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds currently, especially fresh from the AI Safety Summit and the ever-evolving nature of AI. “But what Golden Valley gives us is scale and momentum towards the jobs of the future,” he continued. “That then outlines the skills that are needed, we can start looking at: what talent is available? Where are the gaps? What does the curriculum teach for? This is all about the next decade plus worth of the evolution of the technology jobs market and how Cheltenham can be critical to that and, moreover, the county of Gloucestershire.”
Pulling on that thread, Chris asked about scope for the Golden Valley involvement in learning and creating opportunities for young people who want to move into these industries. “This is an evolution from a very effective existing cluster within Cheltenham,” Andrew shared. “There are initiatives such as the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst programme, which is all about trying to coach 11-to-14-year-olds into the arts and the crafts of cyber so that they can start thinking about career paths – but also their own personal technology and online hygiene.”
Andrew reinforced that the Cheltenham cluster is already working and already in place. “So, what Golden Valley brings is a huge scale that will be developed on top of a very effective existing ecosystem that gives it momentum to stand on a global stage, not just a local stage. When someone mentions Cheltenham in the form of cyber security context, people’s eyes light up around the world. Whether you’re in Tokyo, Istanbul or Silicon Valley, [we can reach a point where] people know about Golden Valley, what it stands for, who’s there and what effect it can have.“