Centre’s �4.5m extension plans mark five successful years at Hethel

An award-winning Norfolk centre which has nurtured the talents of the region's most skilled engineers is celebrating its fifth birthday with multi-million pound proposals to further extend its premises.

Plans are due to be submitted for a �4.5m project to expand Hethel Engineering Centre by another 40,000 sqft which will house 'grow on' units for the site's incubating businesses.

Since its doors opened in 2006, the centre has acted as a hub for the area's engineering and manufacturing excellence helping more than 50 fledgling hi-tech businesses innovate new products which have caught both national and international attention.

The centre, near Wymondham, has already completed one major 11,000 sq ft extension in its short history and director Simon Coward said it cannot expand quickly enough to meet the growing demand for space.

'We are thrilled at what we have achieved and we are excited about what lies ahead,' he said. 'We started off with 29 incubator units, then we went on to build a further 11. We have bought land [next to the centre] and we are looking at putting in a planning submission this week.

'It will contain grow on space which is about encouraging tenants to grow but enabling them to do that within the community at the centre. We already have interest for all the units.'

Yesterday, those who had played a part in establishing the centre toasted its success at a special birthday celebration.

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The site is owned by Norfolk County Council and was initially funded by the authority, the East of England Development Agency (Eeda) and South Norfolk Council, but is now self-funded through offering workshops, conference facilities and business support.

As well as helping dozens of start-ups initiatives – of which just two have failed in five years – the centre has supported more than 5,600 businesses delivering �3.5m in added value, created more than 150 high skilled jobs and inspired about 11,000 students with 9,500 training days.

This year it received a prestigious Local Government Chronicle (LGC) award for economic development and regeneration.

'Hethel is about showcasing the very best of engineering and manufacturing in Norfolk and beyond,' said Mr Coward.

'By bringing people together into a niche community with a sector focus then in times of recession you will always see growth. There is such a high degree of interaction that they build from each other and can bounce ideas around.'

But the celebrations come a week after plans to move �500,000 of machinery from the centre to Great Yarmouth, part of a long term shift of the Learning Skills Centre at Hethel to Beacon Innovation Park at Gorleston, sparked fears that apprenticeship training could be hit.

Shortly a new scheme will also be launched, called Hethel Fellows, aimed mainly at secondary school and sixth form students, who will be able to gain work experience with the centre's tenants in a bid to turn their sights towards a future in engineering.

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