When he lost his engineering job, Peter Church came up with a new way to pay the bills - building robot submarines.

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The Belton grandfather produces unmanned subs to inspect oil rigs in the North Sea, and the craft can work up to 3km deep in the ocean.

And since his company - Hydramec - was founded in 1990 it has accrued 22 staff and valuable contracts across the globe.

It has trebled in size in the last five years, and the 64-year-old says he feels a “great sense of achievement” as he nears retirement.

“I love my work,” said Mr Church. “I feel I haven’t any regrets and I’m glad I founded my own business.”

He started out as an apprentice engineer in Norwich, then worked for companies across the region, latterly at Dutch firm Hagglunds Kenz Ltd in the Harfreys Industrial Estate in Great Yarmouth.

When he was made redundant he took time out to consider his options, before launching his own business with a £5,000 bank loan - just up the road from his old firm.

He gave the business his all, and says people should consider becoming their own boss if they cannot find the perfect job in the current climate.

“It’s based on the individual,” said Mr Church. “If you’ve got a fire in your guts you should go for it.

“If I had a job at the time I don’t think I would have gone for it, but I was forced into it and I’ve no regrets.

“I’ve never been a nine to five person.”

He plans to hand control of the Great Yarmouth-based firm to his youngest son Danny, 37, when he steps down this year.

Danny was 14 when he started working with his father at weekends, and has been with the company ever since.

And the family firm is in good health, having secured its first direct export order to Italy for a £175,000 full Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) dive launch system.

Further orders for five dive systems - totalling £750,000 - are planned and the family business has created three new jobs on the back of them.

Its workshop has scaled up from 3,000 sq ft five years ago to 9,000 sq ft today - it started in a 400 sq ft workshop.

And Mr Church revealed the secret to the success of his submarine business is being flexible.

“We put our success down listening to the client and meeting their demands,” he said. “We plough all available profits back into the business by investing in the latest computer controlled machine tooling, and have a loyal and skilled workforce.

“We realise that we are building for discerning engineers who keep us on our toes.”

The company produces ROV handling systems, and also has a marine engineering department, repairing equipment on vessels throughout the UK.

His wife Audrey, 59, works at the company and eldest son Nick, 39, freelances for them in America.

Mr Church hopes to finish his pilots licence when he retires.

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