County Durham’s Engineering Clusters are all geared up
Engineering Clusters County Durham are looking forward to their first County Durham Oktoberfest, as John Lyle highlights
On 8th October 2008, the region’s world-class expertise in engineering and manufacturing will be showcased in a new event – County Durham Oktoberfest – that will be held at Hardwick Hall Hotel, Sedgefield in County Durham. This event aims to highlight the proficiency in these sectors across the North East of England and encourage more inter-trading between companies. “The North East has a unique and strong heritage in this sector,” comments the man championing the mission, John Lyle, chairman of Derwentside Engineering Forum. “The aim of Oktoberfest is to bring together the 50+ member companies from the County Durham Engineering Forum Clusters of Derwentside, Sedgefield and East Durham – in collaboration with Tees Valley Engineering Partnership (TVEP), South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum (ST-MF) and the North East Process Industries Cluster (NEPIC) as well as our other partners including the universities and colleges. Not only are we encouraging inter-trading between companies but this event will also open up the possibility to trade or develop new products with other partners within the same county.
“Oktoberfest will be an opportunity for us to celebrate the relationships between the Clusters and to promote the idea that collectively they represent the best in engineering and manufacturing companies that Durham has to offer. It marks something of a renaissance for manufacturing events of this nature which, prior to this event, had all but died out within the North East.”
Continuing, John highlights how he believes the event will affect the companies involved as well as the local economy: “Inter-trading will of course be the big focus of this event. However, in saying that, we are working on two premises – if there is work to be done, can it be done in this area? Secondly, by combining all of our efforts, can we attract work that wouldn’t have been allocated here otherwise? In 2005 alone we successfully attracted £1.5 million worth of additional work and projects into the Durham area as a direct consequence of our combined efforts. This is proof in itself that the forum’s cluster concept does work and that it enables companies to operate in ways they wouldn’t have been able to on their own.”
He continues: “Our ambition is to build on this event year-on-year, attracting companies from all over the UK and internationally and more importantly, to place the North East back on the map when it comes to engineering and manufacturing capabilities. This is the mission that everyone involved in Engineering Clusters County Durham is driven by.”
The first of the three Clusters, Derwentside Engineering Forum, was formed in 1999 initially to address skills shortages in the engineering and manufacturing sectors in the North East. Realising that individual companies could do very little to address this issue, the forum provided the perfect platform for the injection of funding into the local college which saw it re-equipped with the latest equipment and new staff, heralding a new beginning for the college and local companies alike. “Over a period of eight years, we have increased the number of students undertaking engineering courses at the college from 25 to a significant 130, where half of these are undertaking an NVQ Level 3 qualification with the majority of these provided apprenticeships by local businesses within the Forum,” states John. “We also interface directly with local schools through our annual Engineering Challenge project which stimulates year nine pupils to consider engineering as a potential career in conjunction with our Engineering Careers Road Show.”
Having proven to be a successful venture, Derwentside Engineering Forum was awarded a Local Enterprise Growth Initiative (LEGI) contract in 2006, by Be Enterprising (County Durham), to help propagate its best practice model in other areas of Durham. “The LEGI contract allowed us to form two new forums Sedgefield Engineering Forum, covering South West Durham, with a current membership of 21 companies and East Durham Engineering Forum which launched earlier this year with ten initial member companies. Engineering Clusters County Durham is a virtual organisation which features extensive collaboration between the three Forums to achieve common goals and objectives for our members,” he concluded.
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