April 8, 2022, by Lexi Earl

Open letter from Prof David E Salt, Director of the Future Food Beacon of Excellence

Following on from the recent announcement by Zoe Wilson PVC Science (5th April, 2022) that I will be stepping down as the Director of the Future Food Beacon on the 31st July 2022, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your support and hard work. Your willingness to contribute to the Future Food Beacon is what has made the Beacon such a success. It is an exemplar for how challenge-led transdisciplinary research can be done.

This journey started in August 2016 with the University-wide call for proposals for Beacons of Excellence. Working with Divisional, School, Faculty and UNM colleagues we submitted a case for support for what would become the Future Food Beacon of Excellence. This was assessed along with over 20 other proposals from across the University. We were selected to defend this vision in front of a tough selection panel made up of internal and external assessors. In December 2016 we were informed that the Future Food Beacon had been selected as one of six new Beacons of Excellence. The Beacons were launched at the Royal Society in June 2017.

Over the past five years the Future Food Beacon has done extraordinary things, all through the remarkable efforts of the hundreds of stakeholders (academics, industry, civil society and government) who have actively engaged with the Beacon. I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on what we have accomplished together. Both as a way of taking pride and ownership in what we have achieved, and as inspiration to keep our momentum going.

  • Hired and paid for 75 new staff and students (including 11 academics levels 5 – 7).
  • Published 103 papers by Beacon hired and paid staff as first or last author with ‘Outputs in top 10% most cited journals worldwide’ = 41.7%.
  • Obtained 63 external grants by Beacon hired and paid staff totalling £14.8 million.
  • Beacon hired and paid for academics averaged grant income FTE/year = £247,000 over the five-years of the Beacon.
  • Significant international reach with 31 funded projects in 32 countries, signed MOUs with four international organisations including United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and collaborative projects at both UNM and UNNC, including the Smart Food joint lab as part of the China Beacons Institute.
  • Our staff and students come from over 30 countries, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia, Zambia, Mexico and Tunisia.
  • University engagement of over 250 people as part of the nine co-production workshops for the Innovation Challenge held at all campuses in 2018, our Beacon Briefing sessions (each attended by ~70 people) held every 6 months, 34 issues of our monthly newsletter, 131 articles published on our Blog, and 22 University press releases.
  • Supported over 60 projects in open competition across all Faculties to pump prime new food-related research activities.
  • Worked with Government, including contributing to the National Food Strategy (NFS), sponsoring a Parliamentary debate on the NFS, publishing policy briefs, and directly engaged with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) through workshops and campus visits, and discussions with local MPs.
  • Worked with over 100 external organisations to co-design research activities across industry, civil society and government.
  • Our six NRFs have all transitioned into home Schools, and two have been promoted to Associate Professor. One level 6 Beacon hired and paid academic promoted to Full Professor.
  • £3 million invested in equipment, including at DeepSeq where it played an important role in the University’s contribution to the national COVID-19 sequencing efforts.
  • Established new platforms such as the MakerSpace workshop for rapid prototyping and construction (together with Plant Science), and the Ancient and Environmental DNA Laboratory jointly with the Faculty of Science, Schools of Biosciences, Geography, Classics and Archaeology, and the Life in Changing Environments Interdisciplinary Research Cluster (IRC).

Finally, I would like to thank the 22 past and present members of the Future Food Beacon’s leadership team, made up of academics from all five Faculties and UNM, and our External Advisory board drawn from manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality, our local community, and a Brazilian economist. They have provided valuable, practical and outward looking advice throughout the establishment and running of the Beacon.

Fresh leadership will bring the new energy and perspective needed to build on the achievements of the Future Food Beacon, and use it as a springboard for the establishment of the new University of Nottingham Food Systems Institute. An external search is currently underway for a new Director (https://jobs.nottingham.ac.uk/5784).

Posted in Future Food News