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Saturday, 01 November 2014

Innovation has a Fabulous future in Cumbria

INNOVATION in West Cumbria is set to receive a further boost thanks to funding from Britain’s Energy Coast.

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FUTUREPROOF: West Lakes Academy students getting to grips with the type of equipment to feature in the BEC Fab Lab

Economic development organisation BEC is bringing the worldwide Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) movement to West Cumbria, with facilities in Cockermouth and Egremont set to open this autumn thanks to a £200,000 investment from BEC, in partnership with its nuclear funders and a further £80,000 from the Rural Development Programme for England.

Working in partnership with imaging innovators Createc and West Lakes Academy and supported by the University of Cumbria, the two facilities will become part of a small but growing network in the UK.

A concept born in Massachusetts, USA, Fab Labs are hands-on digital fabrication laboratories which have been described as a “half-way house” between a laboratory and a workshop where anyone – from young children to community groups, businesses and individual inventors – can turn their creative ideas and designs into (almost) anything.

They give users the opportunity to create products and prototypes using the latest equipment such as precision laser cutters and 3D digital printers, often beyond financial reach, as well as access to on-hand expert support and an on-line community of potential collaborators and problem solvers linked to the 250 Fab Labs around the world.

The objective of BEC Fab Lab is to help develop a community of inventors, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who will benefit both from the facilities and the interaction it will provide, in the process helping to stimulate economic growth.

Encouraging innovation is a significant part of the West Cumbria Economic Blueprint – a document which sets out a long-term vision for the region’s development based around low carbon energy.

David Jones, Head of Projects, Energy and Business Support at Britain’s Energy Coast, said: “Encouraging and nurturing innovation is key to the future economic prosperity of West Cumbria which is why the £200,000 investment by BEC, in partnership with our nuclear funders, is such an important and sound investment.

“The BEC Fab Lab provides a great opportunity to build upon the pioneering spirit of this region by enabling businesses to undertake research and development, schools to nurture the innovation of our youth and the wider community to spark invention.”

Matt Mellor, Managing Director at Createc, who will host the BEC Fab Lab at its facility in Cockermouth, said: “The facilities and equipment in a Fab Lab are fantastic for small businesses and inventors who cannot afford to buy prototyping equipment or create 3-D models.

“This will make a world of difference to smaller, innovative companies like ourselves who are crying out for an affordable and accessible option to help move their business forward.”

Stephen Gilby, Deputy Head of West Lakes Academy, who will host the BEC Fab Lab at its premises in Egremont, said: “In keeping with the spirit of innovation, this will be the first Fab Lab in the country to be opened in a school.

“We are excited about the prospect of schoolchildren turning their creativity and energy into real physical products and developing their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to provide West Cumbria with more budding entrepreneurs and science and engineering students in the future.”

Once open, the BEC Fab Lab facilities in Cockermouth and Egremont will be available to hire by local businesses, schools, community groups or individuals and will provide open access on certain days to the whole community.

A manager is currently in the process of being recruited, but in the meantime enquiries can be directed to Joe Martin at BEC on 01946 595285.

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