Halton is located on either side of the River Mersey in North Cheshire and within the Liverpool City Region and has a population of just under 120,000 people.
It comprises of two towns – Widnes and Runcorn – along with the villages of Hale, Moore, Preston Brook and Daresbury.
It is in the latter that the borough’s beacon of enterprise and innovation is located: Sci-Tech Daresbury.
Halton Borough Council (HBC) has been a proud joint venture partner in Sci-Tech Daresbury since it was established in 2010. Previously, HBC was also one of the partners of Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus Ltd, the forerunner to Sci-Tech Daresbury established in 2006. It has therefore been an important strategic partner of the campus for over 15 years and a key joint venture partner for over a decade.
A key ambition of all joint venture partners – Langtree, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and Halton Borough Council – is to deliver an additional 10,000 high-value jobs at Sci-Tech Daresbury. over the next 20 years. This will be achieved by attracting, developing, and retaining the wide range of talent and skills essential to Sci-Tech Daresbury, Halton, the Liverpool City Region and beyond.
If these ambitions are to be met, it is imperative that the talent and skill of people from across Halton are fully utilised and the campus creates jobs and careers that local people can benefit from, as much as those from across the UK and further afield.
One such individual is Peter O’Donnell, a mechanical design engineer apprentice at the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory. He explains his journey:
“I got the job two years ago and have been working on campus since halfway through 2021. My role involves designing little and big components that will be used in work on a lot of scientific research devices, such as particle accelerators.”
For twenty-year-old Peter, living in Halton involved regular exposure to the campus. A student at Wade Deacon High School, his formative years involved many trips to the campus during which he was inspired by what he witnessed. The sense of excitement he felt on those trips remains and now he is based there full-time.
“I like to put myself in the technicians’ shoes,” says Peter. “The science is revolutionary. A lot of big discoveries have been made here, and I want to get my name on something I can tell my grandkids about. I’ve always been massively into science and since I’ve been here, I’ve developed a great interest in engineering too.
“I love the science behind everything and there are times when you take a step back and think ‘wow’! You’re blown away and your head falls off on the implications of what you do and how it will be used by scientists to split atoms and discover new particles. It’s a dream come true to work here. I take pride in my work – the value of things on the campus is massive in terms of what it does for science and discoveries for the future.”
Such discoveries, of course, do not happen without collaboration and as Peter says: “The people are the best part of the whole job.”
This is a sentiment shared by Georgia McKnight, a sales administrator at Olsen Actuators. Based at the Innovation Centre, Georgia’s company has many years of experience in successfully developing and producing innovative motion control and automation systems that meet some of the world’s most challenging requirements in the aerospace and defence sectors.
“The campus has a calm, relaxing atmosphere and the people on reception are really nice to chat to,” says Georgia.
Joanne Lawes, a colleague of Georgia’s and operations manager at Olsen, adds that the campus exteriors are also a huge benefit.
“It’s a lovely environment – it’s beautiful to go outside and take a walk on the canal.”
Joanne continues: “We often speak to many other businesses at the networking events the campus puts on, usually on the first Friday of the month. Many of us are small businesses so it helps to get familiar with people in likeminded positions.”
Prior to working for Olsen, Joanne had worked for both small and large businesses. After being headhunted, she visited the campus and was extremely impressed.
“I thought it was beautiful. The tower (built in the 1970’s to house the second-generation synchrotron) is amazing – you can see Manchester from there!” she says. “When I’d been looking for work previously, I was intrigued by the site – what happens there, who does it? Now I know that it’s all sorts of people doing all sorts of things – there’s so much diversity and something for everyone.
“My niece is currently working as a mechanical engineering apprentice on the campus and loves it there. There’s funding for training opportunities – it’s a very exciting place to work and regardless of what you think you don’t need a degree.”
The networking events are also a positive for 27-year-old Runcorn native David Banner. An alumni of Halton High, since October 2019 David has worked at campus company MCS, which aims to decarbonise heat and power in the UK’s homes by certifying low-carbon energy technologies and contractors – including heat pumps, solar, biomass, wind and battery storage. Beginning as a helpdesk analyst, he’s now a team leader.
“In addition to those events, the campus organises things like mental health first aid training and company reps can go and speak to different people in the Innovation Centre,” says David.
“The best thing for me about the campus,” he adds “is the open space. There are always places to go like the canteen, restaurants, and the gym too. It helps that I love my job – MCS is brilliant, helping you advance your career, and getting you on training courses. I didn’t know a lot about renewables before I came here, but it’s definitely a sector I want to stay in.”
Peter’s message to people growing up in Halton today is: “If you feel you need to start working after leaving school, the role for you may be at Sci-Tech Daresbury – at university you get knowledge but not hands-on experience. You learn a lot doing it practically as well as in theory here.”
Indeed, the campus has proven itself to be a location where local people can develop careers that last a lifetime. Married couple Suzanne and Nigel Henshall work as logistics operative and estates maintenance manager for STFC on campus respectively. Suzanne is a Halton native, while Frodsham born Nigel has lived in the area for 34 years. Combined, they have over 50 years of service to Sci-Tech Daresbury.
“A lot of couples have met here just like us, and there’s a lot of camaraderie and friendships. There are fantastic people that work all over on the campus,” says Suzanne. “Everyone is treated well, and the work is great.”
“It’s a family,” agreed Nigel. “Of course, people come and go and there’s always new faces, but the feeling of community doesn’t change.”
During their time in their roles, Nigel and Suzanne have seen many famous faces visit the renowned campus.
“I once shared a lift with Margaret Thatcher – I don’t think you’d get that anywhere else!”, says Nigel.
As well as leaders past and present, the campus also encourages the youngsters of today to dream big.
“We do a lot with schools,” says Suzanne. “We have many campus visits and introduce them to science and get them to come in and picture themselves as being the people that will be working here in the future.”
Thanks to the ecosystem of support and training that has been created on campus there is every possibility that those Halton children visiting the campus in 2023 can look back in thirty years’ time at having built their own lasting career at Sci-Tech Daresbury, with a wealth of roles available for them to achieve their potential.
STFC Daresbury Laboratory is holding an open evening on February 9th at which attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the range of apprenticeship opportunities available on campus, as well as the chance to discuss the apprenticeship scheme with the apprenticeship team, supervisors and current apprentices.
There will be presentations and the opportunity to understand how you could work and learn within an exciting and unique environment that really does make a difference in shaping and changing the world and our understanding of it.
Please head to the registration page to book your place.