The town of Blyth on the east coast of England has a proud industrial heritage. During the first and second world wars the Blyth shipyards were responsible for constructing ships for the Royal Navy, including the UK’s first aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal. And, as recently as the 1960s the town was exporting more than six million tons of coal each year.
But changing times brought significant decline to the area. Blyth’s final colliery closed in 1986 and the Blyth power station, once the largest of its kind in the country, ceased operations in 2002.
Today, however, there is a new sense of opportunity in the area, thanks to the arrival of different types of energy technology – renewables.
As a hub for wind power technology and the future location of the UK’s first gigafactory the town is at the centre of the energy transition that will drive the UK towards a net zero future.
The National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) was established in Blyth in 2002 and in 2014 it merged with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.
This world-leading research and development centre is attracting a global market and growing UK capability in this increasingly important sector.
Through leveraging inward investment, growing local infrastructure and skills, the Catapult is creating a sustainable future for the town, moving its focus from fossil fuel to renewable energy; from shipbuilding to wind turbines.
The Catapult is an instrumental partner in the Town Investment Plan (named ‘Energising Blyth’) and is involved with the Town Deal Board which has recently encouraged significant government investment.
Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult plays a key role in Energy Central, a strategic partnership located around the Blyth Estuary which provides leading skills, facilities and R&D for clean energy industries.
One of Energy Central’s most successful inward investment stories to date is JDR Cables, a critical technology development partner to the Catapult, who recently announced an initial £130m investment for a new manufacturing facility near Blyth by 2024, creating 170 high-quality local jobs on completion and safeguarding 270 jobs at JDR’s existing Northeast facilities.
With substantial traction gained from Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult’s involvement in Energy Central activity, it is also building a foundation for skills development in Blyth that will in turn feed the businesses that are establishing themselves within Energy Central.
Another development in the area is the Blyth STEM Hub, which was formed to bring together education and business to enable young learners to experience the world of work and STEM career opportunities from Blyth and wider Southeast Northumberland. This will help young people, local to the area, compete effectively for clean energy sector jobs.
In addition, the Energy Central Learning Hub will support employees in low carbon industries or transitioning from high to low carbon intensive industries with upskilling, reskilling and accreditation opportunities, with similar opportunities for local people who are currently unemployed.