Stevenage innovation and technology centre creates stem pipeline for the local community

The Stevenage Innovation & Technology Centre (SITEC), a new venture created in partnership with North Hertfordshire College (NHC), Stevenage Borough Council, and Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (Hertfordshire LEP), was officially opened by Stephen McPartland MP at NHC’s Stevenage Campus on March 9th. The new project aims to capitalise on Stevenage’s position in the Golden Triangle of Research and Development between Oxford, Cambridge and London. It provides a space for local people to build the necessary skills required by science and technology businesses and industry within the area.

The project was part funded by the Hertfordshire LEP and is phase 1 of broader NHC project to develop and deliver an exciting range of new T-Level and Apprenticeship qualifications in Science, Engineering, Digital and Sustainable Technologies at Levels 3 – 5 (post-16 education through to Higher Education). The project aims to raise the aspirations and skills of local residents and employees by providing accessible opportunities in the key growth areas for the region, including life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

Working with industry partners FourPlus, LifeArc, UCL Vax Hub, Autolus and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, SITEC phase 1 has seen the creation of a simulation life sciences laboratory, immersive technologies spaces, a new digital training suite, and virtual reality training capabilities in a virtual environment. As well as being used for traditional STEM subjects such as Science and Digital, the facilities are also beneficial to students across North Hertfordshire College’s Child Development, Health and Social Care, Sports and Supported Studies programmes, who use virtual reality capabilities and laboratories to enhance their learning.

The facilities were officially opened by Stephen McPartland MP through a speech that emphasised the opportunities SITEC will bring to the local area. During the launch event, industry and education partners and key local figures visited the new SITEC facilities and watched as NHC students interacted with the new technology and equipment. Guests received a first-hand experience of the benefits that the facilities bring for young people, from the sensory learning experience of the Omni Vista system for Supported Studies students to practical experiences of laboratory clean room procedures and life science practices such as DNA extraction and analysis for science students.

Other activities demonstrated during the launch included:

  • Immersive Reality space, a collaborative virtual space which provides teachers with new tools to enhance their teaching methods
  • FourPlus Virtual Reality experience, enabling students access to unique experiences and soft skill development opportunities in a safe space.
  • HumanTrak Technology and Perform Better Pro, movement analysis equipment which enables NHC’s Sports, Coaching & Exercise Science students to better understand physiology and the ethics of technological developments in sport and exercise science.
  • Training workshop delivered by industry partner Autoscirbe Informatics, on the Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), software used by NHC’s Science students to manage samples and associated data.

Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said: “It is absolutely brilliant to be at North Hertfordshire College opening SITEC. This is an excellent example of how NHC is such an innovative educational establishment at the heart of Stevenage, helping to give all young people great opportunities. We’re working to reduce the gap between education and employment, and with the courses and the facilities available here at SITEC, we will give those young people the opportunity to go out and get brilliant jobs in life sciences.

“North Hertfordshire College is the place to be, it’s got great innovation and great opportunities for young people to be able to complete their education and get out there and get a job.”

Kit Davies, Principal of North Hertfordshire College and CEO of the Hart Learning Group, said: “We are thrilled to be officially opening the SITEC project today and to welcome so many local employers to our facilities. One of the main aims of the project is to educate parents and young people about the possibilities of careers in STEM; by providing education pathways and opening access to high-tech equipment, SITEC seeks to raise aspirations and encourage local residents to see STEM-related careers in the Stevenage area as accessible and achievable for all.”

Adrian Hawkins OBE, Chairman of the Stevenage Development Board, Incoming Chair, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Chair, Skills & Employment Board, said: “The launch of SITEC epitomises levelling up in practice and ensure that students are provided with the opportunity to engage with local employers when they complete their training.

“SITEC opens doors and minds to future opportunities in STEM by harnessing the latest in digital and virtual reality technologies to enhance the student experience. This cutting edge approach to training and development brings to life future career opportunities in ways which never seemed possible before. It’s another small step forward for Stevenage and a giant step forward for our future workforce.”

Stephen Ward, Chief Manufacturing Officer at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, said: “Stevenage is being very proactive in developing a joined up education and training system in core STEM skills, including life sciences. Through the fantastic new labs and digital training spaces unveiled today, SITEC North Hertfordshire College are leading the way in delivering this on the ground and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult is very pleased to be part of it.”