Great Malvern grew to fame as a quintessential Victorian spa town. The small industries that emerged nearby - Morgan Motor Company has been at the foot of the Malvern Hills since 1909, while Malvern Mineral Water was bottled in the nearby village of Colwall until 2010 - didn’t detract from the greenness that is said to have inspired many of Edward Elgar’s concertos.
It’s a strange place therefore to find the front line in the war against international cybercrime. Yet in data security circles, Malvern is a big deal. There are over 70 companies in the thriving ecosystem there, which contributed an estimated £239m gross value added to the UK economy in 2017.
Winston Churchill is to blame. During the Second World War, it was decided that the isolated town nine miles southeast of Worcester was the perfect place to hide the military telecommunications and radar research programme. That brought talented engineers with a flair for communications, and those engineers put down roots.
"For a while it had the highest proportion of PhDs per person of any place in the UK," says Emma Philpott, CEO of the Malvern-based cybersecurity accreditation firm IASME and founder of the Malvern Cyber Security Cluster. "Research into radar and communications easily led into cybersecurity," she adds.
Unsurprisingly the cluster’s cybersecurity companies get a lot of government and defence contracts, although Philpott says this has started to broaden over the last few years as the global threat of cybercrime has increased.
Multinational QinetiQ is the biggest name. The now privatised spin-off of the government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency runs its cybersecurity operations out of the Malvern Technology centre. The National Cyber Skills Centre is headquartered at the Malvern Hills Science Park while Worcester’s Titania provides auditing software to government departments in both the USA and Britain.
Malvern’s close proximity to the Cheltenham-based GCHQ has no doubt brought both custom and capacity, and goes some way to explain, along with the presence of the research-led QinetiQ, why the cluster has developed outside the direct influence of a university or a major city.
Partly thanks to its cybersecurity hub, Malvern has also retained its links to communication technology. In 2018, Worcester was one of five places given a government grant to host a 5G testbed – with companies at the Malvern Hills Science Park trialling the tech as part of the £4.8m investment.
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