Vice-Chancellor’s Conference maps out a more successful future for Liverpool

More than 170 key figures from Liverpool City Region organisations attended the University of Liverpool Vice Chancellor’s Conference today (28 November 2023) to hear local and national viewpoints on Liverpool’s future success.

The event saw Mayor Steve Rotheram launch the interim report from his Liverpool Strategic Futures Panel, which was set up to help chart the city’s path to stability and prosperity. He outlined priorities for Liverpool over next 10 years which included: rebooting regeneration; 21st century public service reform; and turbocharging the innovation economy.

Speaking on the report, he said:

“Liverpool has all the ingredients of a fantastic, truly global city. Through the panel’s work, we want to help the city seize the major opportunities that lie ahead and ensure that all our residents can share in the benefits this will bring.”  

The Mayor was joined by Dharmesh Nayee from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), whose Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has approved the report.

The event at the Maritime Museum also included a keynote speech from the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Society of Arts, and former Chief Economist at the Bank of England, Andy Haldane CBE, on the national and local challenge in creating successful cities. Speaking about the plans for Liverpool, he said:

“The past 30 years have seen a welcome rejuvenation here. However, the pace has slowed a little in the last 15 years and Liverpool’s regeneration is plainly unfinished business – that’s what makes today’s event so timely.”

Liverpool City Council Leader, Cllr Liam Robinson and Chief Executive, Andrew Lewis discussed how they will provide leadership for a successful Liverpool. Cllr Robinson said:

“When we are given the opportunity, we can do some really significant things. We are already a world famous visitor destination but we also need more people to live, work and invest here. The future can be and must be really bright for Liverpool.”

Following this, four panel discussions with leading city figures explored different areas of opportunity:

How will we improve our economic performance?
Colin Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer, Knowledge Quarter Liverpool and Sciontec
Phil Hall, Mersey Division Port Director, Peel Ports Group
Brian Woodhouse, Business Director, Lucid Games
Jessica Bowles, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Impact, Bruntwood

How will we use development to create more successful communities?
Chris Capes, Director of Development, Peel L&P
Billy Hogan, Chief Executive Officer, Liverpool Football Club
Professor Louise Kenny CBE, Executive Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool
Stephen Jones, Director, Core Cities UK

How will we improve the quality and performance of our city centre?
Bill Addy, Chief Executive Officer, Liverpool BID Company
Nuala Gallagher, Corporate Director City Development, Liverpool City Council
Lorna Rogers, Assistant Director of Mayoral Programmes, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
Dr Jonathan Falkingham MBE, Founder and Creative Director, Urban Splash

What have we learned and what will we do next?
Katherine Fairclough, Chief Executive, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
Laura Pye, Director, National Museums Liverpool

Professor Tim Jones stands outside the Maritime Museum










Concluding the event, University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Jones said:

“I would like to thank all of today’s participants for their valuable and thought-provoking contributions.

“A number of priorities have been discussed today including the scale of our ambition – it is clear we need to think globally. Partnership between the public and private sector will also be critical to the city’s success in the coming years, and knowledge and innovation leaders like the University of Liverpool have a critical role to play.

“Inclusive growth to benefit all parts of our community is key, and the barriers to opportunity in our organisations and elsewhere must disappear. We’ve talked a lot and now it is time to deliver. It’s in our hands to make the changes, working together with local and central government and the private sector.”

University of Liverpool and Liverpool University Hospitals sign MOU

Senior leaders from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to advance plans for an Academic Health Sciences Campus on the site of the former Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

The MoU will build on a long-standing collaboration between these Liverpool City Region anchor institutions, for the benefit of patients, students and the people of the region. In partnership with North West NHS trusts providing placements to Liverpool students, it will also help to answer challenges laid out in the recently published NHS Workforce Plan, the biggest recruitment drive in health service history

It will support the continued growth of Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter, creating jobs and seeking to attract investment in this world-leading innovation district which brings together the city region’s key partners to collaborate in a creative environment and close the economic gap with London and the South East.

The facility would house the University’s medical, dental, nursing and allied health professional students, enabling new opportunities for interprofessional learning, thereby enhancing students’ clinical understanding and professional development within the context of a clinical team.

It would also feature flexible teaching spaces, clinical teaching facilities and simulation facilities, such as mock wards and patient homes, supported by state-of-the-art IT to train students to be part of a workforce that will increasingly use robotics, artificial intelligence and data.  As part of our Health Innovation LiverpooL (HILL) programme, it would also provide vital clinical research space for health professionals seeking to address regional and global healthcare challenges.

Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool said:

“Since its founding in 1834, the University of Liverpool’s Medical School has been at the forefront of medical practice and associated with numerous leading medical alumni, including three Nobel Laureates. We have a rich heritage of working closely with hospitals across the region to train health professionals who go on to make a vital contribution to society.

“The new Liverpool Academic Health Sciences Campus is a really exciting opportunity to build on this work, providing new interprofessional learning experiences to enhance students’ clinical understanding and professional development within the context of a clinical team. New mock wards and mock patient homes, together with virtual reality-assisted learning and other state-of-the-art facilities and IT, would provide an authentic clinical and digital learning teaching environment for larger numbers of students, alongside a-state-of-the-art clinical research environment which would help us respond to future challenges.

“Our region has some profound health inequalities, and we remain absolutely committed to playing our part in addressing these. Increasing our capacity to train healthcare professionals and retain them here after training, something that the University has a strong record in doing, is a key part of our work in this area.”

James Sumner, Chief Executive of Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: 

“The agreement between LUHFT and the University of Liverpool is an incredibly exciting opportunity for the city of Liverpool.

“A new clinical skills and health education facility would significantly improve and modernise the quality of health education for the next generation of health care workers across multiple professions, including medicine, dentistry, nursing and the allied health professions. It offers opportunities for collaboration and partnership in clinical research and innovation for the benefit of the NHS across the region, which is essential for improving the care and treatment we deliver whilst also helping to tackle challenges, such as the health inequalities within the Liverpool City Region.

“It would also be an important investment in the redevelopment of a key city centre location, sitting alongside two of the newest hospitals in the country and in the heart of the Knowledge Quarter, all of which serves to benefit the people of Liverpool and beyond. We are committed to working with University of Liverpool to help support making this new facility a reality in the coming years.”

Liverpool led way in reopening big cultural events

Liverpool researchers have authored a new study detailing definitive population-based evidence of risks of Covid-19 transmission around the early reopening of mass cultural events before restrictions were lifted.

Liverpool City Region hosted the world’s first regional cluster of experimental reopening of mass cultural events after Covid lockdowns as part of the UK Events Research Programme (ERP), including a business festival, two nightclubs (Circus’ First Dance) and a music festival (the Sefton Park Pilot).

All ticketholders were required to take a lateral flow test ahead of the events – a negative test would allow them access. Attendees were encouraged to take a PCR test on the day of the event, and a second one five days later, and gave consent for their routine NHS Covid testing data to be linked.

The analysis, published today (23 June 2023) in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, finds that of 12,256 individuals attending one or more events over 5 days, there were just 15 linked cases detected through research, public health and clinical testing using population-wide linked data.

Half of the cases were likely primary or secondary, reflecting transmission no higher than the background rate at the time, in contrast to a concurrent outbreak of more than 50 linked cases associated with a local swimming pool.

The key strengths of the study are its population-wide design and the realistic way the events were run. The Liverpool City Region was the first region in the world to introduce voluntary open-access asymptomatic testing, and used real-time linked data systems to study patterns of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and coordinate public health responses from November 2020 through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Liverpool’s Professor Iain Buchan, Principal Investigator for the Events Research Programme in Liverpool, said:

“Around the May Bank Holiday of 2021, the Liverpool City Region ran the world’s first experimental reopening of a realistic set of mass cultural events after COVID-lockdowns. We studied the feasibility and effects of risk-mitigations including supervised self-testing, contact-tracing and joint communications between event organisers and public health teams. The events were designed to be realistic, so mask-wearing was not compulsory. Out of 12,256 eventgoers there were 15 event-linked cases detected through research and routine NHS testing – no greater than background rates, which were low then – just before the Delta variant surged. The same surveillance system detected over 50 cases linked to a swimming pool in the area at the time, which did not have pre-attendance testing.”

He added:

“This public health initiative was a response to the social development and mental health needs of young people, who were last to be vaccinated, and among whom mental health referrals were rising. It was also a response to rising unemployment in the events and hospitality sector, and the importance of this sector for social wellbeing. Future pandemic recovery might take greater advantage of digital links between ticketing, events management, and public health systems, including testing and risk communications.”

The live links between different data sources, including events ticketing and public health testing were built by the Liverpool City Region Civic Data Cooperative (CDC), which is funded by Mayor Steve Rotheram and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, and hosted by the University of Liverpool. The CDC is the UK’s first Civic Data Cooperative and was launched just before the COVID-19 pandemic to mobilise health-related data across the city region to improve the health and wellbeing of its residents.

Director of Culture Liverpool Claire McColgan CBE, said: 

“The Events Research Programme remains one of the most challenging projects I have ever been involved with and one that I’m incredibly proud of. At a time when restrictions were in place, we couldn’t mix indoors with family and friends, and mask wearing was the norm – Liverpool stepped up to be the focal point of a pilot project which would help shape national policy and breathe life back into the culture and leisure sector.

“This industry represents more than half of our local economy and it was in our interests to do everything we could to start to bring a sense of normality back. The eyes of the world were on us as we blazed the trail, and worked around the clock with the University, Government and event organisers to make each activity a safety success, and help unlock live events for the rest of the country.  And in terms of legacy, our learning from those projects has been invaluable, shaping how we now deliver major events, such as the highly-acclaimed Eurovision host city programme, and as a result are regarded as an exemplar of best practice in this field.”

Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said:

“Being the first region in the country to reopen its hospitality and events sector in the midst of a global pandemic was no mean feat, yet we knew it was essential one – not only for our economic recovery, but for our collective wellbeing.

“While the rest of the world watched on, we worked with our world-leading scientists, researchers and our ethical Civic Data Cooperative, to safely reopen our visitor economy to the public. Few areas can claim to have made a bigger impact on global health than the Liverpool City Region – and it’s a legacy that we’re proud to be continuing today.”

Click here to read the full paper.

(Image credit: Blossoms Perform / Liverpool City Council)

£6.9M funding to better understand child mental health

Further funding to enhance the flagship birth cohort study Children Growing Up in Liverpool (C-GULL), which opened this spring, has been announced today (4 July 2023).

The new ‘Microbes, Milk, Mental Health and Me’ (4M) strand, supported by £6.9M funding from the Wellcome Trust, seeks to better understand the early-life origins of mental health conditions.

Poor mental health is a growing public health challenge, particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet there is still much to be learned about their early-life origins. Compelling evidence suggests that gut microbial colonization, strongly influenced by breastmilk, impacts neurodevelopment and mental well-being, but more research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms.

This funding will enable the collection of additional bio-samples for the diverse birth cohort, including state-of-the-art gut microbiota and breastmilk profiling. Researchers will utilize large-scale genomic and epidemiological data to perform experiments, discover new biological insights, and carry out epidemiology and translational science. They will also establish an internationally unique archive of paired bio-samples from mothers and babies and identify keystone bacteria and milk constituents that influence neurodevelopment and mental health.

The findings from this study will inform new methods for preventing and treating adverse mental health conditions in children. The Children Growing Up in Liverpool (C-GULL) program is the first large-scale birth cohort study in the Liverpool City Region and will follow 10,000 first-born Liverpool babies and their families from early in pregnancy through childhood and beyond.

C-GULL is a partnership between The University of Liverpool, The Wellcome Trust, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Liverpool City Council, The Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and NIHR Clinical Research Network North West Coast. The study will also introduce further collaborations with University College London, The Wellcome Sanger Institute, and the University of Manitoba.

“The Children Growing Up in Liverpool (C-GULL) study represents a unique opportunity to explore the complex interplay between early-life exposures, gut microbiota and mental health,” said Professor Anthony Hollander from The University of Liverpool.

“We are thrilled to receive this additional funding from The Wellcome Trust which will allow us to further advance our understanding of how we can improve the mental health of children.”

Dr Catherine Sebastian, Head of Evidence for Mental Health at The Wellcome Trust, said:

“Poor mental health is increasing in children and young people, and we need to understand more about how these problems develop to better tackle this public health challenge. The 4M strand of C-GULL will generate important new insights into the relationship between gut microbes, breast milk, and mental health during child development, and will provide a foundation for future research in this field.”

The official opening of the C-GULL research centre will take place later this month in the academic unit at The Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

Participants and prospective participants can find more information on the study at the patient-facing website:

New Mental Health Research Centre is established in KQ Liverpool

Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Liverpool have teamed up to create the first ever Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC), where service users co-design the innovations they need and want, alongside health professionals, researchers, industry partners, and public advisers.

The Centre will be awarded £10.5 million of government funding from the Office for Life Sciences and the National Institute for Health and Care Research. It is part of the national ‘Mental Health Mission’ which aims to accelerate mental health research through a UK network of leading investigators called the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration which includes M-RIC in Liverpool.

M-RIC will create a world first ‘learning system’ where treatments improve the more they are used, studied and refined. The focus will be on under-researched areas such as early intervention in psychosis, depression, and children and young people’s mental health. Research will underpin Liverpool City Region’s commitment to service users, providing easy access to clinical trials and increasing their involvement in better care, closer to home.

Professor Joe Rafferty CBE, Mersey Care’s Chief Executive, said:

“Investment in mental health research has huge potential to boost economic growth, reduce health inequalities, and address the associated £13bn per annum the UK economy loses in productivity to poor mental health.

“To improve mental health, the Centre will advance understanding of how mental, physical, and social conditions are interlinked, and trial new interventions with industry in real life settings.”

Professor Iain Buchan, the University of Liverpool’s Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Innovation, explained:

“Mental health is vital to us as individuals, families, and communities, yet despite advances in public health and healthcare, mental health has been declining, particularly in disadvantaged areas like Liverpool.

“Our Centre will have particular depth in mental health data science and engineering, driving innovations for a connected world – continuously improving as the research underpinning them is embedded in mental health services.”

The data-sharing required for the project will be facilitated by Liverpool City Region’s Civic Data Co-operative (CDC) which uses data to deliver better care for residents.

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the health inequalities that exist in our society today – few more so than the extreme disparities in mental health support and funding. Coupled with the spiralling cost of living, it’s little surprise our country is now in the midst of a mental health crisis – which is costing the UK economy nearly £118bn every year.

“It’s one of the many reasons we invested in an ethical Civic Data Cooperative, to allow local experts to analyse our residents’ health and wellbeing needs and to help us improve care and service delivery locally.

“Our area has been a global leader in health research and innovation for centuries, and it’s fantastic to see this legacy continue today with the Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it helps us identify and explore new, improved ways to treat the mental health and wellbeing of our 1.6 million residents.”

Professor Nusrat Husain, Mersey Care’s Director of Research and Innovation, and Global Centre for Research on Mental Health Inequalities, added:

“The investment for innovation in mental health provides important opportunities to build upon our existing work to address mental health inequalities.

“For example digital technologies are helping to improve access to mental health services and becoming an important part of our clinical practice. These innovations in the way we deliver mental healthcare will not only have an impact on Liverpool City Region, but also nationally and globally.”

Liverpool to benefit from £23.4M boost for National Biofilms Innovation Centre

The National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC), which the University of Liverpool co-directs, is to benefit from a Phase 2 funding package totalling £23.4 million.

The NBIC is a UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre which exists to create a fusion of world-class interdisciplinary research and industry partnerships to deliver breakthrough science and technologies to control and exploit biofilms.

The University of Liverpool is one of NBIC’s four lead research institutions and its involvement is through the Open Innovation Hub for Antimicrobial Surfaces, a multi-disciplinary initiative to develop new processes and technologies to tackle biofilm and antimicrobial resistance, which is led by Professor Rasmita Raval.

The new funding package will build upon NBIC’s collective strength as the UK’s national centre and support the continued expansion of world-class research and innovation.

The NBIC was launched in 2017 and is led by four Co-Directors including Professor Raval alongside Professors Cait MacPhee, Miguel Cámara and Jeremy Webb respectively. Since its inception, the centre has expanded partnerships with 59 research institutions and more than 150 companies across the UK.

Biofilms are central to our most important global challenges, from antimicrobial resistance and food safety to water security. They also provide a significant contribution to both the UK and global economy. In May 2022, a study carried out by NBIC estimated that the value of the markets in which biofilms are involved is worth £45 billion in the UK and $4 trillion globally.

To date, NBIC has collaborated with over 150 industrial, research and public partners in the UK and overseas to develop joint-industry programmes that are tackling major economic and societal issues affecting the world today.

The latest funding will support NBIC’s vision to deliver a global innovation hub by building on its collective strengths to prevent, detect, manage and engineer biofilms. It will enable NBIC to drive the adoption of innovative solutions across industry sectors to address major global challenges including climate change, water safety and improved healthcare. It will also drive step-changes in standards and regulation for novel biofilm solutions that support international trade.

Phase 2 will also see NBIC deliver a diverse training programme to equip the biofilm innovation ecosystem with the skills they need both now and, in the future, while also nurturing the talent of tomorrow.

NBIC University of Liverpool Co-Director, Professor Rasmita Raval said:

“Liverpool is proud to be a core partner of NBIC. The next phase of NBIC is critical for the UK to consolidate its global leadership in biofilms science, standards, innovation and skills training. NBIC also plays an important role in Liverpool’s growth agenda, as our city region sets its ambitious targets for the coming decade. I am strongly committed to our ethos of academia and industry collaborating together, bringing our collective knowledge, strengths and talents to address some of society’s most pressing problems.”

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:

“Our area is already home to some of the world’s leading clusters of innovation, with unparalleled strengths in AI, infection control and materials chemistry right on our doorstep. I want to harness these strengths – and potential – and turn them into profitable businesses, creating better, greener jobs and bringing greater prosperity to local people.

“Locally, we’re putting our money where our mouth is, with plans to invest 5% of GVA into R&D and plans that could create around 44,000 highly-skilled jobs for local people and add £42bn to the local economy.

“The University of Liverpool has a massive role to play in helping us to achieve that ambition – and this latest investment in the National Biofilm Innovation Centre is testament to the incredible impact it has made – and I cannot wait to see what opportunities arise on this next chapter in its journey.”

This funding comes at the same time as NBIC announces its new CEO, Professor Jo Slater-Jefferies. Professor Slater-Jefferies joined NBIC in April 2018 and brings a wealth of experience and leadership in knowledge exchange, academic and industry collaboration and strategic research programmes to the role.

The University of Liverpool’s Open Innovation Hub for Antimicrobial Surfaces combines interdisciplinary surface and materials science expertise with advanced imaging techniques across the physical and life sciences. The pivotal role of surfaces in biofilm formation is studied with precision – often at the nanoscale and single-cell level- enabling structure-property relationships that govern microbial adhesion, biofilm development and antimicrobial action to be established. The Hub creates seamless interactions between researchers, industry and clinicians, enabling science and innovation to progress together.

The new £23.4 million investment consists of a £7.5 million award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Innovate UK alongside a further £9.5m from its four lead universities (Liverpool, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Southampton) in addition to £6.4m industrial support.

Find out more about NBIC’s achievements to date and future plans for the Phase 2 roll out in their 2022 Annual Report.

Digital Innovation Facility officially opened

The DIF is a £12.7 million Centre of Excellence in emerging digital technologies and a key addition to the science and technology facilities in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter.

£1.3M to develop the Low Carbon Chemistry Lab of the Future

The University of Liverpool’s Materials Innovation Factory has been awarded funding from Research England to develop the Low Carbon Chemistry Lab of the Future.

John Lennon’s son opens Yoko Ono performance centre

Sean Ono Lennon officially unveiled the Yoko Ono Lennon Centre, home to the University of Liverpool’s new 400-seat concert hall, The Tung Auditorium.

Bruntwood SciTech Finalise Science Deal

After a competitive and legally thorough process, the owners of Sciontec Liverpool finalised contracts today, making Bruntwood SciTech a 25% shareholder in the company, which operates Liverpool Science Park.