Steve Wilkinson, Manufacturing Adviser for the Cumbria Manufacturing Service, explains why the sector is the unsung hero of Cumbria’s economy and how Cumbria Manufacturing Service is helping businesses in the county to be part of that success story.
Those not well-versed in the yellow pages of UK manufacturing could be forgiven for thinking Cumbria’s economy is only driven by tourism and agriculture.
Yes, it’s home to the beautiful Lake District and some of the finest rural landscapes in the country, but it’s also home to bona fide manufacturing giants.
Aerospace and defence multinational BAE Systems, pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline, tech powerhouse Siemens, food giant United Biscuits, Swedish paperboard maker Iggesund, footwear brand New Balance and Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli all have a major presence in the county.
And of course there can be no discussion of Cumbria’s manufacturing expertise without mentioning nuclear — Sellafield in West Cumbria is Europe’s largest nuclear centre and the county accounts for over half of the UK’s nuclear workforce.
Add to that some of the UK’s most important infrastructure projects, such as the Walney offshore wind farm (the world’s largest), and it’s clear that Cumbria is far more than just Windermere and Wordsworth.
All in all, the county’s manufacturing sector employs around 20,000 people, accounting for 16 per cent of employment – the biggest share in the UK.
The Cumbrian way
Cumbria’s manufacturing success sometimes seems to come in spite of the many natural barriers it faces.
The county’s geography means population centres are disparate, the labour pool is relatively small and the rest of the country can feel far away. This means Cumbrian SMEs sometimes need an even stronger business model to compete with their counterparts in other regions where cost bases may be lower.
But that breeds a sort of resilience you might not find elsewhere.
The businesses I’ve met in Cumbria are full of passion for what they do and they take real pride in their role in the local economy. Despite suffering from the same skills shortages facing the rest of the country, workforces here often seem that extra bit more resourceful. Nothing seems to faze them — maybe it’s in the Cumbrian DNA!
However, business owners in the county aren’t always Cumbria born-and-bred. Many entrepreneurs and founders choose to set up shop here to capitalise on the work/life balance that comes with living on the Lake District’s doorstep.
There is also a tight business support network that exists right across the county, of which the Cumbria Manufacturing Service is a part.
We provide impartial advice and grant funding to help SMEs in Cumbria’s manufacturing and engineering sector to increase production capacity, streamline manufacturing processes, increase innovation and access new markets.
The grants contribute to the cost of bringing in specialist expertise and consultancy that can take businesses to the next level.
I’ve worked with companies across Cumbria in a huge array of sectors with a wide range of challenges, whether it’s procuring new equipment, automating processes or securing IP for a new product.
Previous companies to benefit from our support include The Warm Welly Company in Carlisle, which designs and manufactures neoprene lined ‘Warm Wellies’ for children.
After coming to the Cumbria Manufacturing Service for support to build a sales and marketing strategy, the business was awarded a grant of £3,000 to procure the services of a specialist, whose help generated a 40 per cent forecast growth in sales, secured new outlets and created a new job in the company.
Another example is Pure Lakes Skincare in Staveley, which makes eco-friendly skincare products from natural ingredients. Pure Lakes received grant funding to help develop a new business development strategy.
The plan touched on everything from packaging to a new website and has already been described by owners Gareth and Claire McKeever as a “game changer” for their business.
Ready for a chat?
Our current support programme is targeted at projects with a value of around £15,000, which would attract a grant of up to £5,400. But we’re not just about handing out funding – we focus on providing impartial, long-term advice and support to work through problems and solutions from start to finish.
I’m delighted to say I’m on the frontline directly helping SMEs to contribute to this great county’s ongoing manufacturing success, and I’m ready for whatever you can throw at me!
Ready to access Steve’s support? Call Cumbria Business Growth Hub on 0844 257 84 50.
Steve Wilkinson has worked in and around engineering and manufacturing for more than 28 years. Starting out as an Engineering Technician Apprentice and graduating in Manufacturing Systems Engineering, he has supported businesses in projects including Technical R&D, Process Development including Process Simulation, Training, Coaching and Mentoring and Strategic Development.