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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Helping West Cumbria meet the challenges

WE can expect a new blueprint for the economy of Britain’s Energy Coast any time now, just as we head into the fourth year of the Britain’s Energy Coast Campus Programme.

When we started at the end of 2008 with funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and our founding partner, the University of Cumbria, we set out to establish a unique collaboration of education, training and research in West Cumbria.

We aimed to ensure that our area had the best possible chance of realising the ambition to become one of the UK’s most important locations for energy production by equipping a local workforce with the right skills and qualifications.

Britain’s Energy Coast Construction Centre is now itself under construction to enable Lakes College to provide the latest training in low-carbon and renewable construction from next year and to start to develop the construction courses for any new forthcoming developments in the nuclear industry.

Just up the road at Energus are engineering training workshops to rival anything in the UK and Gen II continues to deliver a high-quality apprentice programme, as well as investigating new opportunities such as creating a ground-breaking centre for reactor operations training.

So while West Cumbria’s training capability moves forward, historically it is the lack of higher education that has been a real barrier to creating opportunities for our young people as well as to bringing in world academic expertise to our area. Well we now have three universities with bases in West Cumbria and others considering investing.

Also based from Energus, the University of Cumbria is now delivering degree courses in radiation protection and sustainable energy technology as well as working alongside local businesses to design, develop and test their renewable energy ideas in working prototypes.

University of Central Lancashire and University of Manchester’s Dalton continue to offer excellence in nuclear engineering, with Dalton now installing the last of its specialist scientific equipment and already attracting worldwide interest to the area.

We aim to finish our current programme of investment by the end of next year and by that time West Cumbria will have seen some £100million investment in further education, higher education and research over five years. But we don’t intend to stop there, we intend to keep our partnership together and to keep working together.

The significance of the Britain’s Energy Coast Campus has not only been in investing NDA funds to support this growth of our capacity but also in the strength created by bringing the institutions together in a unique way. We now have a range of collaborative and partnering agreements: facilities are shared as well as teachers and lecturers.

Most importantly this has created progression routes so that today a young West Cumbrian could move from school to becoming a college student or apprentice and into becoming a university undergraduate, a masters level student or even post-doctorate level researcher.

Now of course that doesn’t make sense for everyone and I think there is a lot to be said for our young people leaving West Cumbria to study and hopefully bring a world of ideas back to us. But the point is that by working together, and only by working together, we have opened up these opportunities and have started to place West Cumbria in a position where it can meet the challenges of becoming Britain’s Energy Coast. We need to carry on.

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