SGS Berkeley GREEN – Moving through history to regenerate skills development for the future

20th September 2017
SGS Berkeley GREEN – Moving through history to regenerate skills development for the future

As a new academic year begins, a college campus in Berkeley, The Gloucestershire Renewable Energy, Engineering and Nuclear (GREEN) Campus, has welcomed its first cohort of students.

Following extensive renovations and installation of new, state of the art facilities the site is now home to SGS College’s first group of learners, studying digital technologies (cyber security) and engineering at the brand-new Berkeley GREEN College and University Technical College (UTC).

To discover how the site’s legacy can inspire a new generation, you have to go back to 1957 when the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was set up to run power stations in England and Wales.

The Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories (BNL) was opened in 1961 to service and support the Board’s nuclear power stations. A wide range of science and engineering research topics were tackled at the Labs, often at a fundamental level, in support of the nuclear power stations across England and Wales.

Much of the work attained worldwide recognition and formed the basis for future research into electricity generation using nuclear power.

About 750 staff worked at BNL with about 200 professional scientists and engineers supported by highly qualified technicians, skilled designers and craftspeople, together with the necessary administration staff.

Berkeley Nuclear Power Station was completed in 1962, producing 276 Mega Watts of electricity with two Magnox reactors.

After years of success, enthusiasm for nuclear power started to wane and research activities were tailed off. The centre emptied and decommissioning began, followed by demolitions and clean-up of the land.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) took on ownership when it was established in 2005, and began to oversee lifting of all the nuclear-related regulations that prevented the site from being re-used. Initial options were mainly focused on wholesale demolition, with an estimated cost of around £8 million, and marketing the cleared land for business use. Many discussions and assessments later, in 2015, the land and its remaining buildings were instead leased to SGS on a long-term basis. 

The NDA’s Head of Property Services David Atkinson said: “This is, essentially, a site restored and mission accomplished.  We are delighted that the vision of stakeholders, as expressed during consultations some years ago, will be realised.

“The potential for using these redundant facilities for educational purposes was not always obvious, however, and we did once draw up plans to demolish the buildings.

“The college’s plans are exciting and ambitious, supporting the UK drive to excel in science and engineering, while also building on Berkeley’s nuclear history. We look forward to seeing the first students welcomed onto the campus and enjoying their studies.”

From September 2017, the redeveloped site will offer some of the best training facilities in the country for Built Environment, Welding, Engineering and Digital Technologies, with full and part- time training on offer to learners from the age of 14 upwards including apprenticeships, adult re-training programmes and degree level learning. The new College campus and UTC, is seen as a major step forward to encourage a new breed of young engineers.

The redevelopment also brings new business opportunities to the area, offering 300,000ft2 of commercial floor space consisting of office premises, workshops, laboratories, conference rooms and more.

The Berkeley GREEN Campus is a joint venture between GFIRST LEP and SGS College. Speaking of the partnership, David Owen, Chief Executive of GFIRST said: “Gloucestershire needs a ready supply of the next generation of talent to support and continue to grow our great engineering and renewable energy businesses. Berkeley GREEN will provide the training and skills base to support these sectors. It will also facilitate the creation of a UK-leading energy cluster, bringing together global businesses and start-ups to drive innovation and skills in Gloucestershire and across the country.”

Kevin Hamblin, Chief Executive of the SGS Group, explains the philosophy behind the new training centre: “When I took up post of CEO of SGS, with a remit of ensuring the College was employer-facing, it was clear from everyone I spoke with that Gloucestershire had a problem with the lack of skilled employees in some priority areas, which were not being met by the current post-16 providers.  Engineering and Cyber Security were two sectors that were either essential to the local economy and/or set to grow considerably over the medium term.

“Colleges are funded to deliver a wide number of courses and I felt we could do more to support these priority sectors and begin to bridge this gap by increasing the profile of Engineering and Cyber Security in Gloucestershire, but the truth was there was little demand coming from schools and, therefore, SGS in Stroud was not heavily into either area – a picture mirrored across the County.

“Why are these well-paid, relatively secure and essential sectors such as Engineering and Cyber not in demand by school leavers? Why are young people – and their parents – not recognising the potential career pathways? The sad truth is that there was really nothing to inspire them in a school setting. The national curriculum is designed to provide a broad academic route. Technical education at 14-16 is slowly being eroded as school funding reduces the options to deliver just the core subjects – as important as they are. But young people do not always have the opportunity to make things, to explore interests or even to consider a specific career beyond A Levels and a university place.

“The challenge was to find funding to provide a new institution with an inspirational setting, which could support this interest in Engineering and Cyber from the age of 14: an institution which would work with employers in both the content of the students’ educational journeys, and also in setting real-world projects, meaningful work placements and, ultimately, to employ these young people.

“This is now becoming a reality, with the £14m SGS Berkeley GREEN campus and University Technical College (UTC) initiative. Our original aim was for 40 14-year-olds to accept places in September. Astonishingly, that number has risen over 100, with 20% being female.

“SGS wanted to make a difference. Berkeley GREEN will meet the demands of employers if employers step up and join us. We hope they will see the benefits of the new campus and support it as best they can in these very interesting times.”

Open events for the new campus are scheduled throughout 2017/18, with the first taking place Saturday 30 September, 10:00-13:00, where visitors can discover the vast array of learning opportunities, speak with course specialists, take part in a range of hands on activities, and take a tour of the impressive facilities.

Another event to note is the business breakfast on Friday 29 September being run by Business West and SGS. For further information and to register, please use the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-networking-breakfast-gloucestershire-september-2017-registration-33039228221

There will also be a series of community fairs and workshops scheduled at a later date, where tech-savvy teenagers can try their hand at a variety of engineering and cyber activities.

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