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What is Project Digital? – Manchester’s secret technology project dubbed ‘Tomorrow’

Wednesday evening saw the Manchester Evening News report a rumour that Apple could be one of 20 companies set to open in the city as part of a mysterious project known as ‘Project Digital’ or ‘Tomorrow’.

The story ran following the letting of 20 buildings, totally 180,000 sq ft, being let, with a ten-year commitment for each. The buildings are based across The Hive in the Northern Quarter of the city, MediaCity UK and Booths Park in Knutsford.

Property consultancy Edwards & Co has been appointed as advisors on developing the plans for a Manchester based, as well as a future plan to enter into London, while the Sheilda Bird Group, the interior design firm, has been working for ‘a global client’ for over two years, as its UK client design director.

Tenancy deals are understood to also have been concluded without the identities of the tenants being made known, mounting further speculation as to the size of the organisations involved.

The technology companies that are involved will form a community, which, should it go ahead, will boost the city’s digital reputation on an international scale.

Tim Newns, chief executive of the city’s development body, MIDAS described the potential of the project as being; “the most exciting digital investment in the UK,” stating that it could trigger a number of new investments within the area also.

“It is therefore a testament to Manchester’s growing reputation in the global digital community that the city has been chosen as the first location internationally to launch what will be ground-breaking technology. It will also be a huge opportunity for businesses based in Manchester and beyond to explore new ways of working to grow their competitiveness through enhanced technology,” he added.

Also known is that Manchester creative studio The Neighbourhood has been working on the launch concept for the project.

In terms of international companies working within Manchester, Google already has a small presence in city, but is heavily rumoured to be one of the 20 involved, while ITV and BBC have both set up home within MediaCity UK in the last year.

Katie Gallagher from Manchester Digital is also enthusiastic about the future for the city, should the rumored organisations choose to set up shop in the city to work together on a project, described as being ‘a world first’.

“We thought that the BBC was a game changer for the city, and indeed it was, but this gives us a whole new game altogether. Just looking at the size of the space they’re taking – we could be talking 1,000 jobs there. That is mind boggling, and another BBC sized investment into the city,” she stated.

Commenting as to what it would mean for the digital industry’s ability to retain talent within the North West of England, Gallagher was also hugely optimistic.

“There was a bit of a panic within the industry when the BBC was coming, with people wondering if they would lose their talent to the BBC. There maybe some short term issues with that, but I’d don’t think that there’s been anything close to what people expected. The great thing about having these tech companies will be that they will be able to afford to train staff and it means that we can improve that mid-level tier of talent and it helps with that eco-system of spending your whole career in the North West,” she commented.

Speculation will continue to rumble on as to exactly which the companies involved and what they will be working on, but it does look as though whatever the plans are – they are likely to be revealed in the coming months.

Updated:

The twenty buildings that have been selected as part of the project include; The Hive, 1 New York Street, Chancery Place, Orange at MediaCityUK, Number One First Street, The Peninsula Manchester, Riverside, New Bailey Street, 304, Bridgewater Place, Towers, Manchester, Booths Park, Knutsford, Citilab, 196 Deansgate and Manchester Science Park.

In a statement Atul Bansal, co-founder of the commercial interior design practice Sheila Bird Group, commented: “This is an unbelievably exciting prospect for Manchester, as the first city to have access to this revolutionary technology and the potential is has to transform local businesses and the way they work, individually and together.

"As design director my team and I have had the opportunity to explore new ideas, pushing the boundaries to create a revolutionary concept. All of the spaces will differ both in style and design intent; none of the spaces will have a corporate style.

“There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world. The walls will be ‘alive’ and ‘Tomorrow’ will drive a new approach to work interactions and conversations.”

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