Celebrating World Friendship Day: CCR’s first year of Connecting, Challenging, Learning & Innovating in sbarc|spark

Thought Leadership

The sbarc|spark building – a world-first innovation hub housing over 30 leading organisations from across the South Wales region – has been home to the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal for nigh on a year.

As we approach this year’s World Friendship Day, we celebrate and commemorate the connections and partnerships CCR has developed in the first year of its Cathays-based tenancy, from partnerships with other sbarc-based organisations … relationships forged through events hosted in the building … and more.


In the last year, CCR has developed working friendships with multiple organisations also housed within the sbarc building. As sbarc|spark is owned and operated by Cardiff University, it serves (as Innovation Operations Manager Rhys Pearce-Palmer puts it) as a sort of “front door to engage.” CCR has certainly opened that door and stepped inside, embracing every opportunity to connect with both the University and a network that extends far beyond Wales.

The CCR Challenge Fund programme created in partnership with Cardiff University is a prime example of that ‘Connecting’ – including a daylong conference entitled ‘Challenge-Led Innovation: Delivering On The Promise?’ held on March 28th in sbarc|spark.

The conference was hugely popular—with over 85 participants and a waitlist of 40 plus people—and attended by policy makers, academics, and specialists in the field from across the UK. Together, they discussed the elements of challenge-oriented innovation, sharing practical methods of developing and delivering innovation, amplifying the Region’s voice amongst influential universities and innovators representing all four nations.


As well as co-hosting a successful four-nations conference, the CCR Challenge Fund and Cardiff University also worked together to put on a series of collaborative workshops on ‘Innovation for All.’ Taking place at the end of 2022, the first workshop addressed ‘The Challenge of Free School Meals in Wales’ whilst the second tackled ‘Embedding Equality in the Transition to Net Zero.’

HQ’d in the sbarc|spark and expanding throughout the local community, the work of CCR and its neighbours has far-reaching impact stretching to the international horizon. So thanks in no small part to the building’s collaborative environment, CCR has been able to steadily build connections both near and far.


Maindy Road has also proved a wonderful base for Venture Graduates – the CCR programme which aims to connect businesses across the region with talented graduates.

sbarc|spark has been the meeting place and launch pad for our work with Employers, Graduates, Shared Apprenticeships, Chwarae Teg – and the Cyber Innovation Hub, who we partner with to help deliver much needed high-quality bite-sized training bootcamps in Digital, Data and Cyber.

 ‘sbarc|spark is more than just a workplace for us,’ says Rowena O’Sullivan, Skills and Talent Manager for the CCR City Deal. ‘It is a thriving community—an impressive event centre, an innovative hub for networking and collaboration, a place to grow as well as learn. 

At CCR, we’re always looking for ways to improve the region. We’re nurturing the skills and talents that can reinvigorate and transform our communities across priority sectors and the foundational economy – and here at sbarc, we actively work toward that by building relationships with our neighbours, by thinking beyond our own organisation and seeing the bigger picture that connects us all.’

Venture have also used the Cathays-based building as a springboard for forging connections with companies and individuals beyond sbarc, hosting two significant events on the premises: the Rise & Shine with Venture event, and the Venture Career Accelerator Programme Inductions for Graduates, as well as recruiting graduates for the sbarc-based Simply Do company and maintaining an open, collaborative dialogue with Disability Wales.

So what is it that makes sbarc|spark such a natural wellspring of connectivity?


“sbarc|spark was designed to bring people together,” explains Rhys Pearce-Palmer “and it’s doing exactly that! Openness and connectedness are woven into the building design. But there is more to it than nice architecture. There are core staff embedded in the building making sure that the right people find each other. This takes many forms, from simple introductions, networking events, and social occasions.

“Connections aren’t limited to the building community alone. Cardiff University is a world-leading institution with a tremendous breadth of expertise. Being in the sbarc can be a springboard to connecting with the wider university and the university’s partners and networks.”

CCR have, in this last year since joining the sbarc family, certainly made use of those Cardiff University connections. From building official partnerships and collaborations to developing casual, supportive working relationships, sbarc has enabled CCR to plant its roots beneath soil rich in innovation and creativity – interconnecting naturally and organically in an ecosystem designed for innovation. 

As Rhys  reminds us: “Innovation thrives when a diverse range of people connect. In other words, successful research and innovation requires a village. And sbarc is that village! In a short time, it has become a place for industry, public sector, third sector, researchers, government, and citizens, to converge. Cardiff University, possibly the Cardiff region, has never had a building like this before. A place where all the necessary elements to drive research and innovation are cohabiting–with a lovely café for everyone to connect and catch-up.”

Such a unique, high-concept building is certainly a natural home for CCR – with sbarc reflecting and informing the work CCR is striving to accomplish.

“Research and Innovation has a greater impact when it interconnects with multiple stakeholders,” says Rhys. “By that logic it makes complete sense to have a building where those stakeholders cohabit and collaborate. The end goal is to see creative, evidence-based solutions implemented in the real world, making a positive change to people’s lives – in Cardiff and beyond.”


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