Creating a chain reaction

How the nuclear industry is turning its legacy into a foundation for the Northern Powerhouse

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Sellafield is the UK’s largest nuclear site, employing over 11,000 people. Identified by the government at the close of the Second World War as the site to develop the materials for the British nuclear weapons programme, it is also home to the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant, and is where nuclear fuel reprocessing was pioneered in the UK.

Responsibility for operating the six square kilometre-site belongs to Sellafield Ltd, a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The company exists to undertake the essential work of cleaning up nuclear risks and hazards while safeguarding spent nuclear fuel, materials and waste. However, while delivering arguably the most important environmental remediation project in Europe, Sellafield Ltd is making decisions that will benefit the long-term future of the wider community, creating a positive social and economic impact for communities near the site.

Working with the NDA, Sellafield Ltd has developed a new approach to social impact designed to deliver its mission while enabling social improvements and economic diversification in West Cumbria. Jamie Reed, Sellafield Ltd head of corporate affairs and former MP for Copeland, has a long-standing interest in the area. Born, raised and still living with his family in the area, Jamie said: “Our primary responsibility is to remediate our site and every day we’re working to make Sellafield safer, sooner. Our mission is estimated to last for another century and we’re driving the acceleration of our clean-up mission while making significant savings for the taxpayer. This means that we are determined to deliver the maximum social impact from the £2 bn annual spend. Our approach creates shared value. That means securing a positive return for everyone involved, from the taxpayer and national government to local authorities and also our neighbouring communities.

“We spend £10m on our social impact programme every year and this is designed to ensure that our business operations deliver greater value for our communities. To do this as effectively as possible, we work with a broad range of stakeholders including local councils, our supply chain, academia and charities to create solutions that work for them.

“We base our work on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, concentrating efforts on five key  targets: thriving communities, resilient economies, sustainable incomes, collective impact, and the creation of social value chains. This is a way of working that will deliver the greatest possible strategic and long term value for the whole business, the NDA, the government, as well as our local communities.”

Working with the NDA, Sellafield Ltd has made significant progress with its social impact objectives, including:

Campus Whitehaven (£10m investment)

Sellafield Ltd’s largest ever community investment, and the single largest educational investment in Whitehaven for over 50 years, Campus Whitehaven is a state-of-the-art education complex containing separate schools on a shared site. The campus co-locates St Benedict’s secondary school alongside the Mayfield school for children with special educational needs. Opened by HRH the Princess Royal this year, the company’s investment unlocked a further £23m from other partners including the NDA, Cumbria County Council and Copeland Community Fund.

The Well Project (£1.7m investment)

Designed to raise educational attainment in West Cumbrian schools, the Western Excellence in Learning and Leadership (WELL) Project was developed with the NDA, Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Alliance of Systems Leaders. This project aims to provide the best learning outcomes for children in West Cumbria, focusing on the most disadvantaged.

The Bus Station/Watershed (£3.6m investment)

In partnership with Britain’s Energy Coast, the company last year announced that it would finance the refurbishment of the old bus station offices in Whitehaven to create a hub for start-up businesses. This year the company has expanded this ambition, investing in the refurbishment of an adjacent building to create the Watershed project. This will support startups, providing the space and innovation for people to explore commercial ideas and collaborate with other businesses.

Jamie said: “These projects illustrate the nature of our commitment and ambition. The Well project will help attract, support and develop teaching talent, recruit and develop the highest quality staff and deliver a curriculum that provides pupils across West Cumbria with the knowledge and skills they need. This is hugely important for the continued delivery of our mission, but will also help the local economy grow and diversify.

“The bus station and Watershed projects will give established businesses and start-ups the space to diversify and develop. This shows that West Cumbria is ready and able to respond to the changing economy. Space is already over-subscribed and the development has been shortlisted for architectural design awards.

“We know that the West Cumbrian economy needs to diversify into non-nuclear industries, and raising educational attainment and creating the conditions for business growth are a key part of achieving that. Improved attainment improves every aspect of our local economy, from public services to greater financial literacy to reducing crime and increasing public health - everyone benefits.

“At Sellafield we will need higher level skills to help us complete our clean-up mission and high-quality education is crucial to that. Campus Whitehaven is a world-class learning environment and is our largest social impact investment to date - I think it will prove to be one of the best decisions we ever made.

“As a member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, we’re playing our role in helping to deliver the government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda and in implementing the industrial strategy. This is more than a job – it’s a passion. I left parliament in order to help deliver this kind of progress and we’re only at the beginning of what I think we will be able to achieve for the NDA, the nuclear sector, the taxpayer and the local and national economy.” 

Henri Murison, of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership added: “The NDA and Sellafield Ltd are UK leaders in levering social impact value in partnership with stakeholders such as councils, government and businesses.

“I’ve witnessed how these key investments are making a difference to the functional economic area of West Cumbria, and believe the continued support from the nuclear industry creates the momentum to ultimately build a strong, buoyant and resilient economy, lasting long after Sellafield has completed its current mission.”