26th October 2023
Last week, the Sunderland City Hall Council Chamber played host to an event that brought together innovators and thought leaders from around the country. Expo Sunderland: Delivering Future Cities Forum took place over two days, capturing knowledge to drive positive change and exploring how we create cities of the future. Among the sessions, our team had the privilege to lead the discussion on the regeneration of cities through smart technologies.
The Creating Smart Cities session delved into the potential of smart cities to enrich economies and serve diverse populations, featuring panellists contributing to our smart city vision:
Chair: Mark Easton, Home Editor at BBC News
Robin Denton, Director of Local Government at Microsoft
Liz St Louis, Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council
Charles O’Reilly, Commercial Director for Smart Places at Boldyn Networks
David Conway, Director of Technical Services at the University of Sunderland
Matti Inkinen, CEO of Nomad Energy Solutions
The panel’s discussion revolved around a set of key questions and ideas, shedding light on the strategy and vision of Sunderland’s smart city, the importance of connectivity, the role of partnerships, sustainability, and ensuring that no one and nowhere is left behind in the journey towards a smarter future.
Panellists discussed the essence of our smart city: to provide better outcomes with next-generation digital infrastructure, implementing digital and data solutions, and making Sunderland an attractive place to live, work, and play. The approach addresses problems with agility, innovative solutions, and constant evaluation.
Liz St Louis, Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, emphasised that ubiquitous connectivity is a key focus of our work. Connectivity is the backbone of our smart city as it enables the deployment of our smart solutions: such as the newly deployed smart football wall, and our varied IoT pilots – including the recent solar-powered rainfall buckets.
Charles O’Reilly highlighted that we live in an ‘always-on’ world, where connectivity is a necessity. Our free superfast WiFi, which served 30k people within the last month, is a testament to the tangible benefits of connectivity.
Another key theme highlighted by the panellists was the importance of partnerships. Boldyn Networks and Sunderland City Council have forged a 20-year strategic partnership, which has contributed significantly to Sunderland’s ambitions.
Charles O’Reilly emphasised that the partnership is multifaceted and aims to benefit Sunderland in various ways, many of which are yet to be fully realised. It’s the shared vision, shared values, trust, and a focus on outcomes and benefits that drive the success of Boldyn and Sunderland’s partnership.
David Conway added that partnerships between the University of Sunderland and Sunderland City Council have enabled the evolution of the digital offer for students through the expansion of EduROAM. Through partnership, the city is better able to meet the expectations of students, teachers and visitors regarding digital connectivity throughout the city, not just on campus. The partnership has already led to 12k students accessing WiFi via EduROAM since the university and council joined forces earlier this year.
Matti Inkinen, CEO of Nomad Energy Solutions, shared insights about the collaboration with the council on building sustainability and energy efficiency. Their work on 14 buildings is expected to yield a reduction of 5.5k tons of CO2 emissions and cost savings of £2.2million over a 5-year period.
Additionally, the importance of bringing residents and businesses on the journey to becoming a smart city was highlighted across the panel. In the quest to transform Sunderland into a smart city, it is essential to engage the residents, gain their consent, and keep them informed on local regeneration.
Robin Denton from Microsoft emphasised that the smart city’s goals are outcome-focused: with a focus on delivering services that matter to residents, such as 5G at the football ground and assistive care for the elderly. Achieving this involves using data effectively and contextualising technological actions for the community through dialogue.
Liz St Louis also stressed the smart city team’s central objective of no one and nowhere left behind. This principle underscores the philosophy of the smart city team, ensuring that local residents and businesses are the key beneficiaries. To realise this, Liz noted that we employ a full-time Digital Inclusion Lead, Nicol McConnell, to ensure local people and business can benefit from the opportunities afforded by smart city developments.
Mark Easton, Home Editor at BBC News, wrapped up the session by handing the floor over to the audience. Attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts and questions on how smart city technologies can solve challenges in Sunderland.
To learn more about Expo Sunderland, please visit the Expo website. Together, we can continue to build better, brighter, and smarter cities for the future.