A smarter future for a connected north


11th May 2023

Topic Enabling Technologies, Events, Living & Inclusion
Technology 5G, Fibre
Sector Enabling Technologies, Events, Living & Inclusion
The much-anticipated Connected North event in Manchester on 17-18 April 2023, brought together over 1,500 of the North’s connectivity leaders to debate, discuss and discover solutions to connect Northern communities and businesses.

As representatives from the public and private sector gathered to explore the North’s connected future, three digital leaders from Sunderland City Council joined the line-up.

  • Patrick Melia, chief executive, joined a collective of representatives in a local authority showcase about urban regeneration to share Sunderland’s experiences and ambitions
  • Liz St Louis, director of smart cities, joined a panel to debate the role of connectivity to drive inward investment
  • Naomi Hutchinson, chief innovation and growth officer, discussed smart places and place making alongside a panel of experts

Patrick, Liz and Naomi have summed up their takeaways from the thought-provoking experience below.

Thriving in a digital world

Providing a great platform to meet and network with like-minded peers, Liz St Louis shared her thoughts on the event: “Connected North provides an opportunity to gain new insights and to understand the very latest thinking in the telecommunications world.

“Meeting and speaking alongside colleagues from other local authority areas, such as Manchester and Liverpool, unveiled many different approaches to technology adoption. Interestingly, all had similar objectives and outcomes as we collectively strive to implement the right underpinning digital infrastructure to ensure our cities and regions can thrive in a digital world.”

The positive impact that smart solutions and their underpinning infrastructure can bring to not just the city as a whole, but at a community and an individual level was a thread throughout all the working models shared. Liz explained: “The power of digital progress for people and places was definitely a key theme. It was great to share our own progress here in Sunderland and give so many already-implemented use cases to evidence the evolution of our smart city.

“It was also beneficial to hear from other city leaders and takeaway concepts that could benefit our local communities too.”

Progress for place makers

Naomi was keen to explore digital inclusion and discuss breaking down barriers to ensure no one and nowhere is left behind as we pursue more connected cities of the future.

Naomi said: “As someone quite new to the world of infrastructure development and connectivity, it was good to be immersed in the topic for a full day, surrounded by experts that have lived the subject for much longer than I have. It was great to put faces to names of key points of contact from across different locations.”

“It was clear there are many obstacles with fibre roll out and it was good to hear the honesty from others, including frank discussions around the challenges they have faced.”

Sunderland’s growing portfolio of use cases shows the hugely positive impact of digital transformation across the city. Smart solutions implemented across the North have resulted in a mixture of success and frustration in their realisation.

Naomi explained: “Testbeds and trials for initiatives such as 5G, were a hot topic on my panel.

“It was great, from a Sunderland perspective, to see how our smart city positions in comparison to others on the same journey. Deploying at scale and building use cases on top of this infrastructure, Sunderland came through loud and clear as a success story, leading the way for other place makers to follow.”

Digital inclusion was a recurring theme in discussions across the two days, with activities in places across the Northern region prioritising skills development, device rollouts and a myriad of approaches aiming to educate and inspire residents.

Naomi added: “It was good to hear from Manchester around its digital inclusion activity and its clear focus in this area. As a local authority who has recently dedicated specific resource to ensure we leave no one and nowhere behind, Sunderland’s smart city journey is also progressing initiatives to underpin digital inclusion across our communities.

“As our smart city journey advances at a pace, it was interesting to compare notes with other’s approaches too.”

Influencing urban evolution

Designing and delivering public services to create positive economic and social impact for all, Patrick Melia is motivated to leverage the power technology has to offer to improve experiences, enhance lives and increase business competitiveness.

Spearheading Sunderland’s digital transformation, Patrick was keen to share Sunderland’s experiences and ambitions in the local authority showcase about urban regeneration at the event.

Patrick said: “Building the resilience of our residents and businesses is key to their future success. In today’s digital world, boosting businesses’ growth prospects whilst equipping people with the skills they need to grow and succeed are critical components in our drive to deliver improved digital services to all.”

Introducing smart city systems to regenerate urban spaces and build a resident-focused approach, was central to discussions around the future of evolving cities. Patrick added: “The Connected North event was a great opportunity to discuss the infrastructure and connectivity we need to thrive both now and in the future.

“A resident first approach was prevalent on everyone’s agenda. I gained many new insights into the digital infrastructure required to grow our own ambitions even further, and hopefully inspired a few upcoming leaders who are just starting out on their smart city journey.”