Refurbishment work is underway at world-leading Rothamsted Research to bring its striking Russell Building back to life as a hub for high-growth agri and food tech businesses and entrepreneurs.

The building is of huge historic importance as the spiritual home of UK agricultural science. Pioneering statistician RA Fisher, who laid the foundations of modern experimental design, worked in the Russell and the scientists who created the first pyrethroid insecticides were based there.  

The beautiful red-brick Russell Building on the entrance to the globally renowned agri-science research centre in Harpenden has lain empty since 2014.

Now, thanks to a £1.7m joint Local Growth Fund investment from Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Hertfordshire Innovation Quarter (Herts IQ), the building will be renovated to provide much-needed grow-on and start-up space for agri- and food-tech businesses. The prime office space will be launched this summer.

As a founding partner of Hertfordshire IQ, Rothamsted Research is helping to build a cluster of green businesses in the county’s only Enterprise Zone. This increase in capacity will enable a greater number of companies to take advantage of the tax breaks, free business support and collaboration opportunities with industry leaders offered by Hertfordshire IQ.

The building, which will house 22 offices, will enable high-growth, high-tech companies to join a thriving ecosystem of agri-tech, food tech and innovation businesses based on site, with excellent transport links to the rest of the UK as well as international airports. In total, the building will accommodate up to 118 people in spaces ranging from 200ft2 to over 1,200ft2. These will include an open plan innovation space, where early-start entrepreneurs can work together before prototyping their ideas and testing on site, to grow-on spaces and offices for these early start-ups and related businesses.

Peter Oxley, CEO at the Lawes Agricultural Trust said: “Increased demand is behind the expansion of our innovation facilities for businesses, with the other buildings occupied by external businesses (Daniel Hall and Lawes Open Innovation Hub) on the Rothamsted estate currently at full capacity. This is extremely positive news for the campus, for entrepreneurs, for the town, and for the region, as we bring more jobs and businesses into Hertfordshire.”

Demand for more office space has also been boosted by the recent launch of the privately-funded accelerator programme ‘Shake Climate Change’ and the AgRIA Project, providing entrepreneurs and SMEs with funding and on-site entrepreneur support to encourage cross-working of various sciences.

“We are delighted by this development,” said Angela Karp, Rothamsted Research Interim Institute Director and CEO. “Bringing together entrepreneurs on campus with our world-class scientists, I am confident we can look forward to a new era of ground breaking innovation in agricultural science and technology at Rothamsted.”    

Paul Witcombe, Head of Enterprise and Innovation, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This will provide much needed grow on space for high-tech, high-growth gazelle companies within this burgeoning sector. By bringing this prominent building back into use, it sends a very clear message that Hertfordshire is the home of innovation and enable Rothamsted to continue to foster open collaboration between business and science.”

Minister for Local Growth, Rt Hon Jake Berry MP, said: “We’re committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and levelling up opportunity for people wherever they live.

“The Russell Building has been an iconic landmark in Rothamsted for generations and this £1.7 million of investment from the Government’s Local Growth Fund will give it a new lease of life as a world-class base for businesses in the growing agri-tech sector, which will create jobs and boost the local economy.”

Businesses in these sectors looking for new office premises in Hertfordshire should contact Asmaa Shariff on 01582 938679 or email Asmaa.shariff@rothamstedenterprises.com