Sheffield Hallam launches £14m world-leading research centre for physical activity

27th January 2020

Sheffield Hallam University has today (Friday 24 January) opened the most advanced research centre in the world for developing innovations that will increase physical activity and improve population health.

The new multi-million pound Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC), which has been supported by £14million funding from the Department of Health and Social Care and £905k investment from the European Regional Development Fund, has been officially opened by the Active Travel Commissioner for Sheffield City Region and Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey.

The AWRC, which forms the centrepiece of the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the population through innovations that help people move. Its mission is to prevent and treat chronic disease through co-designed research into physical activity – whilst also attracting new jobs and investment to the region.

The Centre is supported by a number of strategic partners including; Canon Medical Systems, Westfield Health, EXOS, the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine in Sheffield, Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity, Ingesport and parkrun. These partnerships provide cutting edge equipment and technology, expertise in the health and wellbeing sector and research and development opportunities.

Dame Sarah Storey, Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region, said: “It is fantastic that innovation into helping people live more healthy and active lives is taking place here in the Sheffield City Region. Physical activity can improve both physical and mental health for people of all ages and abilities, and its important everybody is given the opportunity to be active.

“Physical activity can be something as simple as walking or cycling to work, school or the shops, which is why I’m working with Mayor Dan Jarvis to enable more people to walk and cycle in South Yorkshire. Our vision includes creating a 2040 Active Travel network which is safe and suitable for all, to allow everybody to start building physical activity into their everyday lives.”

Mayor Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: “I am delighted that the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre will bring jobs and investment to the region, whilst driving new research into the health of populations across the world, as well as our own communities.

“South Yorkshire is now home to the world’s most advanced research centre in the world for wellbeing research, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and National Centre for Excellence in Food Engineering. Research and innovation taking place in South Yorkshire is helping to improve health, business and productivity across the world, reinforcing our reputation as an ambitious, pioneering and trailblazing region.”

The AWRC features indoor and outdoor facilities for multi-disciplinary researchers to carry out world-leading research on health and physical activity in collaboration with the private sector, charities and the community, with a focus on taking services and products from concept to market.

This includes a 500sqm movement analysis laboratory, a clinical floor with diagnostic equipment such as DXA and ultrasound, morphology, body composition and human performance laboratories, and a design engineering space including a wellbeing accelerator and innovation hub for us by SME’s.

Through the AWRC’s close links with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine Sheffield, researchers will be able to work with the city’s population and local communities to explore and test the potential of new innovations and products developed at the Centre.

Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We are enormously excited about the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, which has the potential to be the most important investment of the decade in South Yorkshire.

“We want the AWRC to become a beacon for research, innovation and development in physical activity and wellbeing for the entire population. The university’s capacity to do good has been hugely accelerated by the AWRC.”

Professor Robert Copeland, Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, said: “Our mission is to prevent and treat chronic disease through word-class research into physical activity. This will mean re-engineering movement back into our lives, requiring a radical re-think in the way we live, work, manage and monitor our health, and travel around our towns and cities.

“This mission can’t be achieved by a single agency or discipline, and the opening of the AWRC marks the start an exciting collaborative journey. By bringing together academic expertise from across Sheffield Hallam University within this world-class facility, and creating meaningful partnerships with industry, local communities, local authorities and the health and technology sector, we can address the social, behavioural and economic determinants of health, creating equitable and active communities for all.”

Former Sports Minister and Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park Project Lead, Richard Caborn, said: “The opening of the AWRC is an important milestone for Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, fully cementing our vision of delivering tangible legacy from the London 2012 Olympics, and we are now working with partners to procure the Centre for Child Health Technology that will complement the research being undertaken in the AWRC.”

In September 2019, the AWRC secured £900k government funding to set up a University Enterprise Zone to support regional economic growth and innovation. The Research England funding has enabled the establishment of a Wellbeing Accelerator which will work with start-ups, SMEs, funders and agencies to accelerate the development of health and wellbeing technologies and applications. The Accelerator’s aim is to increase the likelihood of, and reduce the timescales for, innovations to be brought to market through a period of intensive testing and development.

The AWRC also forms a key part of Sheffield City Region’s Global Innovation Corridor and will create interventions and solutions that have real-world application. The Corridor incorporates the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID) – a 2,000-acre centre of excellence for innovation-led research and industrial collaboration which also includes Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering.

HLM Architects designed the new five-story AWRC building that includes 3800 m2 of specialised laboratory and office space. Each area has been specifically curated to consider the wellbeing of visitors, staff and students – using colour, shapes and outdoor spaces that are known to enhance positivity and calmness. The building has been designed to be as sustainable as possible and includes carefully sourced materials.

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