High-tech vision for Alnwick's future revealed with ambitious plans for a new Northumberland technology centre

An Alnwick business has set out an ambitious vision to provide students and the wider local community with high tech skills fit for the future.

Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 24th February 2020, 1:19 pm
The proposed Alnwick Advanced Technology Centre.
The proposed Alnwick Advanced Technology Centre.

MSP (Metrology Software Products Ltd), wants to give the Northumberland economy a shot in the arm and ensure it has staff with the skills it needs to compete worldwide.

“Our growth has stopped over the last two years because we have failed to get skilled people so the pressure on us to relocate to Newcastle is immense,” MSP commercial director, Tony Brown, told a meeting of Alnwick Town Council.

“Our customers want to give us more work but we’re incapable of doing it because we haven’t got the people so we’re faced with a decision to move to get the skilled people or doing something different, and that’s what we’ve decided to do.”

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The Greensfield Court home of MSP. Picture: Google

The aim is to develop students with high-tech skills at Duchess’s Community High School, but also to create a town centre base where others could get involved.

“We want to give people in Northumberland, but particularly Alnwick and the surrounding area, the chance to experiment with new technology or invent a new product,” he explained.

“We want to educate local people who perhaps have fallen out of the education system, or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) kids at the high school.

“We want people to invent things and learn how to use that technology. We want to encourage start-ups to collaborate and free their minds with the emerging technology. We’re talking about robotic assembly, machine tools, VR and AR and video conferencing collaboration techniques and enhancing the software.

Tony Brown, commercial director of MSP. Picture: Dru Dodd Photography.

“Everything that’s manufactured these days is manufactured with software and thing that’s being manufactured has software in it. There’s hardly any product these days that don’t have software in it and yet we’re not really developing the skills to deliver that in our local schools.”

He revealed the idea began in a conversation with high school technology teacher Mike Skinner when MSP was sponsoring a robotics project.

An initial proposal for a tech hub at the school was rejected so they went back to the drawing board and have come up with a three phase proposal written by director of development, Marianne Whitfield.

Phase one is a coordinated STEM activity start-up at the school, while efforts would be made to find a suitable space in the town centre for members of the public to do the same thing. This would cost around £350,000 covering equipment costs and a manager’s salary for three years.

Phase two would involve the creation of an Alnwick STEM hub, potentially at a vacant town centre site. This would cost an estimated £2.5million

“That would be a larger facility with scope for introducing industrial and production-orientated facilities, actually making stuff, which will hopefully encourage people who want to create a start-up,” said Tony.

Phase three would be the creation of a technology centre on Cawledge Park and would cost in the region of £12million.

“We already have the plans because we were going to build it but we decided to do something else so all the work is done,” he said.

There have already been positive early discussions with Northumberland County Council and Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority.

An established link between MSP and Durham University could also be explored, while Newcastle universities will be invited to get involved.

“We are hoping for phase one in spring 2020,” said Tony. “We’ve got a link with Durham University where we sponsored a scheme called Tech Up Women where 100 women who wanted a change of career into digital technology and it’s been a great success.

“We didn’t see why that couldn’t be replicated with Tech Up Northumberland as a starting point to get 100 people who are interested in being skilled digitally to have a go. We’ve spoken to Durham University who ran the original programme and they’d be very happy to explore the opportunity. All these things just need money.

“Everyone we’ve met thinks it’s a good idea,” he added. “We’d like to get our skilled people from Alnwick but to do that we’re clearly going to have to do something else other than wait for the school to churn them out.

“We’ve sponsored a number of students through university. This is how we currently get our skilled workers. Actually attracting people to Alnwick is fairly difficult.

“There is also a need for digital skills in almost every company. Every company has a website which needs some sort of computer knowledge.

“We want more businesses to be attracted to Alnwick. There are a lot of houses going up and we’ve got the infrastructure but what I don’t see is a lot of new companies coming to allow for local employment.

“We like to think of having high value jobs. Tourism is a great focus for this town but they tend to be seasonal, low paid jobs whereas companies like ours are paying a lot of money and bringing a lot of extra income which is being spent in the town.

“We want to make Alnwick a place to live in rather than just visit.”

MSP has become a key name in global advanced manufacturing since it was founded in 2002.

It specialises in precision software and part manufacturing services, works big name clients including Airbus, BAE Systems and several Formula 1 teams.

It bought the freehold of its Greensfield Court base last year.