21st March 2024
  • 2
    Focus North programme team with Nicky Marr, L-R Peter Faccenda, Catherine Souter, Nicky Marr, Nicola More, Simon Middlemas
  • 4
    Writer and broadcaster, Nicky Marr presenting to conference attendees
  • 3
    Magnus Davidson from NRS Dounreay presenting to conference attendees
  • 1
    Trudy Morris, CEO, Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing Young Workforce North Highland Lead presenting to conference attendees

The event in Wick on 19 March, hosted by Focus North, set the scene for the future of Caithness and Sutherland and urged attendees to take control of the growing opportunities.

160+ attendees heard from a dynamic lineup of speakers covering nuclear decommissioning, renewable energy, peatland restoration, and space – which featured spokespeople from NRS Dounreay, Net Zero Nation, Orbex, West of Orkney Windfarm, Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm and Meygen.

Summing up the conference Focus North’s independent chair Simon Middlemas OBE said: “We have set the scene for the future of Caithness and Sutherland, and we want people to commit to helping us drive it forward.

“There is a staggering number of opportunities in this part of Scotland, and we need to work together to manage this huge operation.

“Collective local action is required to ensure these transformational initiatives are delivered, so the north of mainland Scotland generates growth, economic diversity, and leads the low carbon economy.

“The centre of opportunities is in the north!”

NRS managing director, Dounreay Division, Mark Rouse spoke of the future of NRS Dounreay and addressed concerns that it will come to an end in 2033 explaining that the region and its community can expect support for 10+ years to come through:

  • Helping build the education system
  • Supporting the local supply chain
  • Doubling the grant funding for supporting apprentices

The event programme

Central to the agenda was an industry panel session which featured, Richard Copeland, project director for Pentland Offshore Windfarm, Lesley Still, chief of spaceport operations at Orbex, Fraser Johnston, O&M Manager for Meygen, and Stuart McAuley, project director for West of Orkney Wind Farm, who each discussed project challenges, opportunities, and regional impact.

Following the industry panel, attendees heard from The Flow Country Partnership which was recently registered by the Office of the Scottish Charity Register. The charitable status will allow the partnership to directly carry out actions, with the potential of becoming the co-ordinating body for the World Heritage Site. It will now also be able to apply for and manage charitable funds to deliver future interpretation, a visitor facility, and other projects on the ground, while providing community benefit.

Furthermore, attendees received an update on the progress made by Focus North, learning about how the programme is meeting challenges underpinned by three key pillars – inspire our people, prepare our region and grow our economy.

During the conference, a bank of films was introduced to inspire the region – showcasing what makes people live and work in Caithness and Sutherland. The films artfully construct a compelling proposition that will attract more people.

A recent survey carried out by Focus North highlighted the amount of school leavers looking to stay in the region has dropped from 55% to 47%.

Increasing the pool of skilled people is Focus North’s number one priority and funding has been allocated to the Caithness Chamber of Commerce’s recruitment portal, Recruit North Highland, to coordinate recruitment for the region and attract new people to live, work and study there.

The funding has also allowed for the appointment of a talent attraction specialist, Lindsay Matthews, who will be on hand to support people looking for roles in the region and navigate relocating with a family. There will be enhancements across the website and a toolkit will also be produced for local businesses.

To prepare the region and grow the economy Focus North have:

  • Launched the Future Skills Initiative with initial funding of £100,000 via Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and NRS Dounreay which will support a minimum of four businesses employing an apprentice over three to four years
  • Focus North will support young people move into STEM jobs through a local partnership
  • Launched a regenerator accelerator – established in partnership with Net Zero Nation to support 15 local businesses reach net zero
  • Focus North has been successful in securing £30,000 towards supporting the initial cohort of peatland training which will see around 15 participants embark on a week of training and onsite learning delivered by the local college
  • Completed a detailed study of transport requirements and modelling to understand where they are and what is needed with partners, Highland Council and NRS Dounreay collaborating on a pilot programme based on findings
  • Significant partner investment to support Wick Harbour in emergency repairs
  • Successfully retained the Public Service Obligations status for Wick-Aberdeen flights​ with a detailed business case ​showing 20% passenger growth​

Focus North demonstrates that partnership working can deliver impactful results.

Got a good news story you’d like to share? Get in touch with the Chamber today!

E: info@caithnesschamber.com
T: 01847 890076