£4.2m centre for regional businesses and agritech entrepreneurs opens at Royal Agricultural University

27 Jul 2018

NFU President Minette Batters has formally opened the Royal Agricultural University’s (RAU) new home for regional business development and UK-wide agritech innovation, the Alliston Centre.

Named after the late Professor John Alliston, who was Emeritus Professor of Agriculture at the RAU, the centre will be a base for Gloucestershire businesses of all kinds and a headquarters for innovators working across the UK’s agriculture and land-based industries.

Located within the RAU’s campus in Cirencester, over half of the £4.2m Alliston Centre will be used by Farm491, the University’s expanding agritech innovation and incubation hub. The rest will be home to the Cirencester Growth Hub - part of the Gloucestershire Growth Hub network - supporting local enterprises to achieve their potential, expand and create jobs. 

The 15,000 sq ft building, in full operation from 31 July, will create a collaborative, entrepreneurial community where businesses can be born and developed. 

Examples of innovators already working with Farm491 include Multibox, which aims to produce low-cost insects for fish and animal feed; Horse Logic, a consultancy optimizing equine performance and welfare and Raw Energy, which develops renewable energy assets. 

Opening the centre, Minette Batters, NFU President, said: “It is so refreshing to be a part of and witness agritech innovation on this scale, and I’d like to congratulate the Royal Agricultural University on the success of their Farm491 enterprise.” 

“With Brexit presenting a myriad of challenges, UK agriculture is and will continue to embrace technology as tools for the future. Seeing the diversity of entrepreneurs and innovators on show at this opening demonstrates how forward-thinking we already are when it comes to new technology.” 

She continues: “If we don’t invest in new technology we will never deliver on the Government’s strategy for a ‘Green Brexit’. Technology in farming is the future.” 

Visitors from the land-based sector joined the RAU community, Farm491 members, and potential investors for the plaque unveiling. 

HRH The Prince of Wales, who is President of the RAU, also recorded a video message to mark the occasion.

Guests were invited to tour the building and enjoyed welcome speeches from Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU and David Owen, CEO of GFirst LEP, Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

Ali Hadavizadeh, Farm491 Programme Manager said: “This is an ideal environment for agribusiness SMEs (start-ups as well as established companies) who need a multi-location presence, with Gloucestershire being accessible and convenient. Our vision is that self-employed agribusiness entrepreneurs will collaborate, form partnerships and make contacts with a range of other businesses at all stages of development.”

The Growth Hub, funded by GFirstLEP and the RAU, is managed by Yesim Nicholson and will help Gloucestershire businesses of all sizes to collaborate, network and exchange ideas. It aims to grow the county’s economy as a whole, by accelerating their development and will take particular advantage of the RAU’s existing areas of expertise.

Dr Diane Savory OBE, Chair GFirst LEP, said: “Back in 2013 we came up with the original concept of a Growth Hub network offering business support right across the county. The original Growth Hub in Longlevens, Gloucester, in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire, opened its doors in October 2014 and has worked with over 2,000 businesses since then.

“To now see the first of these new Hubs open its doors, in a brand new building that has the wow factor both inside and out, makes me very proud. It has been an absolute pleasure working with all the team at the RAU.”

The Minister for Local Growth, Jake Berry, said: “We are committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and building a country that works for everyone. The latest addition to the Gloucestershire Growth Hub network in Cirencester will deliver jobs and growth by supporting businesses with the ambition to grow, providing the advice and guidance that they need to thrive. It’s great to see the network expanding right across Gloucestershire with this £1.25m investment from the Local Growth Fund, part of £4.17m LGF investment in these facilities over the last two years.”

Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University, said: “Entrepreneurship and innovation are at the heart of the RAU. From working with students to develop their business ideas, to delivering large-scale transformational projects such as the Alliston Centre, our mission is to enhance both the regional economy and the health of the industries we serve nationwide.

“Bringing together agritech innovators and regional businesses under one roof is such an exciting project, and one we couldn’t have achieved without our partnership with GFirst LEP and by working with the University of Gloucestershire, which has already developed a successful Growth Hub.

“As part of our campus, the Alliston Centre will be instrumental in developing business acumen and an entrepreneurship mind-set in our students, skills that will be critical for enabling the land-based sector to cope with the current uncertainty and unprecedented rate of change.

“Helping our sector to recognise this was part of John Alliston’s great legacy.

“Working at the RAU for more than 20 years Professor Alliston was part of the fabric of the University and a much-loved and prominent figure in the world of agriculture. He was ahead of his time in realising that the future of British farming lay in giving farmers the opportunity to improve their business and leadership skills. 

“It is therefore both apt and poignant that his name should be associated with a project which seeks to drive enterprise and innovation, benefiting both the agricultural industry and the economy of the local area and its communities.”

Editor's notes

About the Alliston Centre

The Alliston Centre was named after Professor John Alliston, who was Emeritus Professor of Agriculture at the RAU, and also ran leadership and management courses for the John Edgar Trust and the Worshipful Company of Farmers. He founded the Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM) leadership development programme, which first ran in 2002, and in 2016 won the Farmers Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award.

Professor Alliston also became the first Chair of The Henry Plumb Foundation, which helps young people who are passionate about making their future in agriculture.

He died in 2017 and is survived by his wife Petey and sons James and Mike.

The Alliston Centre offers a flexible, high-tech office environment that will help small start-ups, established businesses and individual entrepreneurs to thrive and collaborate.

The building incorporates environmental design features such as high insulation, master temperature control, lighting control based on sensor movement, fibre optic broadband connectivity and a mobile phone booster kit. It is optimised for natural light surrounded by countryside views and with plenty of parking. Its lift, automatic doors and toilets are all designed to be fully accessible.

About Farm 491

Farm491 is the Royal Agricultural University’s agritech incubator, providing state of the art facilities for budding entrepreneurs and agritech start-up companies. It is part financed by the Gloucestershire Growth Deal 2015 to 2021. Farm491 is also running its Inspiring AgriTech Innovation Programme until August 2020, with £500,000 of investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The project supports agritech initiatives with skills and knowledge.

Farm491 occupies over half of the Alliston Centre, adding to its existing bases at Trent Lodge (modern office spaces) and Manor Farm at Harnhill (practical workshops and collaborative working areas). At the Alliston Centre, Farm491 offers six offices, two portable Nook pods, and 40 hot desks in an open plan co-working area. There are also four meeting rooms on both floors of the centre as well as comfortable break out zones.



About the Growth Hub

The Growth Hub provides dedicated business support to start-up companies across Gloucestershire, in an environment where they can collaborate, network and exchange ideas. Funded by a £1.25m grant from the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and by the Royal Agricultural University it will drive innovation, enterprise, and economic growth for the local businesses. 

The dynamic working environment will create valuable networking opportunities and enable links between start-up companies, their more established counterparts, and the University. The space within the Alliston Centre will comprise of meeting rooms, three nook pods, co-working space, three offices, a business advisory service, workshops and networking events.




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