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Shinfield Studios deal helps University achieve its goals

Shinfield Studios

As the University announces an exciting new agreement to lease land for a Hollywood-style film studio complex at Thames Valley Science Park, Samantha Foley, the University’s Chief Financial Officer, explains how the deal will help our institution its core aims.

The University has today announced an agreement with affiliates of Commonwealth Real Estate LP, a film studios investor based in Los Angeles, for a 199-year lease at our Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield, the University’s business campus. Following consultation with the local community the complex will be known as Shinfield Studios.

This is a superb result for the University, the local community, and for the UK at a time when the whole country is facing continuing economic uncertainty.

I look forward to discussing with colleagues in more detail how this deal will progress, but I wanted to share with you some perspectives on its strategic value to the University and our collective goals.

Greater commercial focus

In recent years, I’ve been keen to increase income from an additional range of sources to research and tuition fees. The reason for this has been brought home to us all particularly in the past few months, when we have seen the impact to finances caused by the pandemic and its knock-on effects. A wider range of income sources can only be beneficial.

In the past we have had success at raising income by selling land that is not fully utilised, helping us to provide much-needed investment in our academic operations and campuses. However, the new commercial strategy reminds us that land can only be sold once – and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so a programme of maximising these valuable assets is underway, to provide a stable income stream.

Thames Valley Science Park has been part of our efforts to do something different – to raise commercial income by renting office and lab space to high-tech businesses, while also benefitting from the halo effect of innovation and opportunity for academics, graduates and students, creating opportunities for our students and the wider community to benefit from enhanced opportunities.

We have had many successes already – attracting the British Museum, Rutherford Cancer Centre, Oxford Quantum Circuits and many other excellent businesses and organisations to Reading.

This latest transaction is significant, because as well as providing a financial return over a long period, it opens up a whole new growing industry to our local area – film and television. The growth of the British creative sector has been helped by the global rise of online streaming services, meaning demand for high quality film content from the UK is higher than ever. It also has strong future potential, particularly compared to other business park-type alternatives such as large offices – many of which are currently lying empty as people switch to more flexible working arrangements. This trend was already happening before the pandemic. Covid has likely accelerated it.

Benefits for the University

Your work in the last two years in helping create a new strategy for the University has been instrumental in making this happen. Our agreed principles of community, sustainability, engagement, and excellence have informed our plans, and our discussions with Commonwealth from the very beginning. I am proud that this new deal helps us to significantly move towards our goals across all of these areas – not least in terms of financial sustainability, engagement with the region, and in highlighting our areas of excellence.

While this transaction is purely about a lease of land, it is not the only way in which the University has interacted with the creative industries. Film, Theatre and TV has long been an academic strength of the University of Reading, one of our areas of excellence among an array of subjects for creativity, the arts and business, and having a world leading Film Studio on our doorstep will only enhance the experience for staff and students alike.

I am delighted that we are providing space that others will use to bring in half a billion pounds’ worth of inward investment to the UK a year, thousands of new jobs, and creating a new stage for our region’s place in the world – literally. This is what being a University for Reading is all about.


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