Urban explorers highlight the decay of the highest voltage lab in the world

A group of urban explorers broke into the disused National Renewable Energy Centre, near Newcastle.

Initially opened in 1970, the Clothier Electrical Testing Laboratory was taken over by the New and Renewable Energy Centre – Narec – in 2004.

The organization primarily continued with much of the onshore grid infrastructure technology development and validation work the high voltage lab was originally built for. They also tested the robustness of networks taking power from offshore locations to onshore sites, and was the only facility of its kind in the UK - developing smart grids and new network developments including integrating offshore wind turbines.

One of several Narec centres, Clothier Lab focused on electrical grid aspects of independent research projects and was a test facility for the development of offshore renewable energies including wind, wave, tidal.

However, when the Coalition came into power their pledge to close all regional development agencies meant that One NorthEast had to shut down, which left Narec to review their capacities and maintenance required by the large facility. Narec opted to relocate to a government-supported laboratory on their main campus in Blythe, Northumberland - leaving the Clothier facility, located in Hebburn, abandoned. The building has not been bought by anyone since its closure in 2011. The site remains the property of Siemens, an industrial engineering company.

Green activists have made the claim that the facility's closure was "a massive loss for UK research and development, and shows the real level of the support the government has for green technology research." Narec, however, calls the move beneficial and maintains that they have invested £150m in new facilities which position the UK as "a world-leader in the development of offshore renewable energy technologies" - citing their new Offshore Demonstration Project as evidence.

Last month, a group of urban explorers decided to visit the old factory. These are the pictures they took:

 

Pictures from 28 Days Later (2)

Editor's Note: This article was amended on 11th February 2013 to correct inaccuracies pertaining to the relocation and the work undertaken at the Clothier Testing Laboratory.

The Clothier Electrical Testing Laboratory has been cabandoned since 2011.

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

Photo: Getty
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I’m in the kitchen with my children, finally learning how to sharpen a knife

For some reason, they have often given me sharp things as presents.

The children have been with me quite a bit lately: they are all going to be, by the time you read this, on their travels, and the Hovel is a useful staging-post for the start of their journeys. Staying here means an extra hour in bed when you have to take a coach from Victoria, or a plane from Stansted or, worse, Luton.

Their company never fails to delight, which is not how I imagined things would turn out. I was a surly clock-watcher at my own parents’ home, counting the days until I could cast off the oppressive yoke of having my meals cooked for me and my laundry done. That was how it was back then. Nowadays, parents try to close the gap between themselves and their children or, even if they don’t try, the gap seems to be closing anyway.

I suppose not being in situ for ten years, on the ground doing the daily heavy lifting, helps. I am not the monstrous, Freudian oppressor-figure: I am the messy layabout with a certain weird kind of authority but not one who assumes the moral high ground. But here they are, or were, and as they get older they get increasingly interesting, more pleasing to be with. And the interesting thing is that they now have skills that I can learn. The traffic of instruction is not one-way.

My daughter worked, for a while, in the kitchen of a restaurant in Berlin. She already knew how to cook, and how to get along with people, but there she also learned how to sharpen knives. I thought I could, but I can’t, not at all.

When you see a father – invariably a father – zinging a honing steel along the blade of a knife prior to carving the Sunday roast, he is not doing anything useful apart from establishing a sense of theatre, which is of debatable utility anyway. He might think he’s a cross between Zorro and Anthony Bourdain, the rather cool New York chef – there’s always a certain flourish in the wrist action – but the trained chef will raise an eyebrow.

For some reason my children have often given me sharp things as presents. For my first Christmas in the Hovel they gave me a Swiss Army Knife, which I still use, especially the corkscrew; one birthday they gave me a pizza-cutter in the shape of the original Starship Enterprise – which I still use. And last birthday, the boys clubbed together to get me a proper kitchen knife.

I had hitherto resisted the notion of getting one, despite the fact that I like cooking and also know how important a good knife is. Here is Bourdain himself, writing in his Les Halles Cookbook (the only one I ever use these days): “Your knife, more than any other piece of equipment in the kitchen, is an extension of the self, an expression of your skills, ability, experience, dreams and desires.”

I suppose this was why I put up with rubbish knives for so long: my dreams and desires were second-rate. I was cooking on an electric hob, mostly for myself; besides, I wasn’t going to be here forever. What the hell was I going to do with a decent knife? Also, I have a healthy respect for sharpness, and whenever I cut meat up with a good blade, I imagine that blade cutting into my own weak flesh, and see vividly, the wound it makes.

But a good knife needs to be looked after, and my daughter, who was given a Japanese chef’s knife as a parting gift from her fellow kitchen workers, learned how to use a water stone, and last weekend taught me.

It is fascinating, and soothing, sharpening a knife. You have to gauge the correct angle at which to place the blade against the stone. You have to feel, with the pads of your fingers, the sharpness of the knife itself, and the burr that results on one side of it after a few dozen passes over the stone. One is aware that sharpening is about shaving steel, almost by molecules at a time, a process that has no theoretical end, except when, one day, the knife itself is sharpened to invisibility.

I am reminded of the fabled measure of eternity: the bird who sharpens his beak against the rock of a mile-high mountain once every hundred years. When the mountain is worn down, a mere day of eternity will have passed.

Meanwhile, the daughter passes the knife across the stone, dips her fingers in a bowl of water, sprinkles it over the stone, and repeats the passing. The father sits there, absorbed in her skill, wondering at this inversion of the traditional learning process. “Here,” she says, handing over knife and stone. “You have a go.” 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder