For the town of Bridgwater in Somerset, UK, nuclear engineering has been an important part of its make-up since 1957 when work began on the nearby Hinkley A nuclear power plant. That has now closed, and so has the later Hinkley Point B. But over the last few years, local people and engineering companies in Bridgwater have been playing a vital role in helping EDF construct the new Hinkley Point C power station. 

“I’m proud of the way Bridgwater and surrounding areas have risen to the challenge of getting Hinkley Point C built,” says Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who is also co-chair of the Nuclear All-Party Parliamentary Group, one of many interest groups that bring members of parliament together with experts and businesses. 

He says, “Bridgwater is a town with attitude — it’s a resilient, close-knit community. If it wants to do something, it does it and does it well. That certainly applied to Hinkley Point C. 

“We’re a nuclear town and we’re proud of it. We get it. We can deal with this industry. It’s been the catalyst for success. Bridgwater is again a town synonymous with the pursuit of excellence in nuclear and beyond.” 

That pursuit of excellence is typified by EDF’s new national training centre in nearby Cannington Court, which puts the area at the heart of the transition to the UK’s low carbon future — while maintaining the past, as it is in a restored 12th century Benedictine nunnery. 

One of the Bridgwater companies playing a key role at Hinkley Point C is engineering firm Berry & Escott, which has seen its workforce rise from 10 to over 50 in the last few years, with turnover going up from half-a-million to £4 million.  

Bridgwater-born co-owner Chris Escott says: “Back before construction started, we went to lots of networking events to figure out what we would need to do to be ready for HPC. We made sure that we had all the correct accreditations in place and enrolled on the Fit 4 Nuclear programme which helped us understand where we need to focus improvements.  

“We have made several key appointments and got them in place before contracts were won, in readiness for work, because we know how long it will take to get the right people embedded.”  

Berry & Escott has grown its factory capacity and, following feedback from customers, now has a dedicated stainless-steel workshop. It is currently delivering projects around digital twinning, supplying fabrications and pipework for tank components and manufacturing transmission plates, as well as creating a Manufacturing Centre of Excellence with Bridgwater & Taunton College. 

As for advice for other engineering companies, Escott says it is vital to be braced for project changes, such as those caused by the Covid pandemic, “that are out of your control and can impact on workflow”. He recommends being on the front foot in terms of systems and processes, as these are vital in such a heavily regulated industry. 

Strength in numbers

The saying is that there is strength in numbers. That is the case for Hinkley Point, with SMEs uniting to ensure they are equipped to meet the needs of Tier One companies. Berry & Escott is one of six companies who formed the Advanced Precision Engineering Consortium (APEC), along with TMB Patterns, Metaltech Precision, CAM Machine Components, Technical Inspection Services (Applus+) and Amitec UK. 

APEC was inspired by the companies’ close working relationship with the Hinkley Supply Chain Programme, established in 2017. Local organisations the Heart of the South West and the West of England LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) joined forces to fund the initiative, as did the Welsh Government, making it accessible to companies in South Wales, just across the border. 

The Hinkley Supply Chain Programme is delivered by the South West Manufacturing Advisory Service (SWMAS) in partnership with Somerset Chamber of Commerce and Business West to help businesses get ready to tender for Hinkley Point C contracts.  

Currently focusing on the MEH phase, the team (who broker funded support through Somerset Chamber of Commerce, from EDF) is liaising with Tier 1 and Tier 2 HPC contractors to identify the work packages and split them into opportunities of the appropriate size and scale for SME businesses in South Wales and the South West. 

Those opportunities are linked to relevant businesses registered on the Hinkley Supply Chain portal, while a range of support is identified and delivered to enable companies to develop their capabilities and meet the stringent requirements demanded when working in the nuclear sector. 

Based in the new Somerset Energy Innovation Centre (SEIC) in Bridgwater, the Hinkley Supply Chain Programme team has engaged with over 80 Tier 1 and Tier 2 HPC contractors, identified opportunities from over 500 work packages, matched over 3000 regional companies to these opportunities and offered HPC-focused business support to over 300 regional companies. Following this, four pre-existing Bridgwater companies have secured over £7.5 million of contracts with a total of £15 million currently in the bidding phase. Via stands at the SEIC over 130 Bridgwater companies have had over 774 interactions with members of the HSC team, including one-to-one support and structured seminars and workshops. 

With contracts to be awarded throughout the 10-year construction phase, and during the 60-plus years of operation and decommissioning, a significant pipeline of opportunity is anticipated. 

The Hinkley Supply Chain Programme is currently funded to run until March 2022. Businesses are encouraged to engage early, even if opportunities are not immediate, as it can take a significant amount of time and resource to become ready to tender for HPC work. 

Hinkley Supply Chain Team Support includes: 

  • Site visits (when Covid-possible), 
  • A programme of information events — introduction to HPC, Effective Collaboration, Routes to Market etc
  • Networking events
  • Supplier Induction Programme — (modules include Nuclear Safety Culture, NEC 3 contracting, CFSi plus others), 
  • Supplier briefings, ‘meet the buyer events’ and HPC site tours, and

Direct individual company support. Escott vouches for the ‘invaluable role’ played by the Hinkley Supply Chain Team. 

Those sentiments are echoed by Mike Morgan, whose electrical engineering company, Mike Morgan Electrical Services (MMES), has worked closely with local business experts. “They have given us the confidence to rub shoulders with the biggest hitters in the nuclear industry, so they’ve been worth their weight in gold,” Morgan says. 

“MMES are like HPC itself in a lot of ways in that we began to build together, we were on site from the earliest days, before earth started moving and the shape of the site began to develop. MMES have grown with HPC, working up the depth of our abilities and team size in numbers as the site has grown and clients have arrived onsite bringing greater opportunities both at HPC and beyond. 

“The legacy from HPC for MMES will undoubtedly be a strong company based locally ready for continued opportunities from the larger client base and greater in-house abilities. That will ensure future prospects for local people with regular uptakes in apprenticeships and upskilling in administration and engineering. 

“We’ve grown in confidence but also in terms of capability and we now boast an ever-increasing range of skills and expertise that can lead to a vast array of opportunities, perhaps anywhere in the world.” 

EDF has invested millions in new infrastructure, transport links, as well as in education and training, which have all had a positive impact on quality of life for Bridgwater people. 

Natalie Beacham, project lead for Somerset Chamber of Commerce’s Hinkley Supply Chain Team, enthuses about the input by the project to date. 

“EDF’s Initial targets for the construction stage of HPC have already been smashed,” she says, “EDF originally thought £1.5 billion would be generated within the region’s economy. This is now up to £2.9 billion and still growing. Businesses who have grown and developed their business, as well as their work force, as a result of HPC will be well placed for future opportunities in low carbon infrastructure and the green transition.” 

A case in point is the rapid surge of inward investment enquiries currently being handled by the Nuclear South West team, who are responsible for supporting companies who want to set up in the area and take advantage of the wide range of opportunities provided at Hinkley Point. 

Former BBC Radio presenter Emma Britton, who lives in Bridgwater, has witnessed local improvements. 

“Overall, I see Hinkley Point C as a force for good,” she says. “It’s brought new jobs and there are now lots of amazing community facilities. Retail-wise the town centre isn’t exactly flourishing yet which is probably down to Covid, but the town does boast several international chain hotels because of HPC. We’ve even got a Marco Pierre White restaurant which is perfect for the town’s feel-good factor.” 

Having lived in Bridgwater all his life, Councillor Leigh Redman, who sits on Bridgwater Town Council, Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council, Hinkley Point has been part of everyday life. But he still marvels at the sheer scale of Hinkley Point C which he points out is so such a huge infrastructure project that even the London Olympic Stadium would fit in the hole where its reactors will go. 

He says, “Traders have shown tremendous ingenuity to help in the construction process by forming alliances, which are essential to support such a large and diverse development, and are locally led and employ local people. The Somerset Larder was launched to provide food and drink to HPC workers, Host was set up to provide accommodation and bus companies united to mastermind transport under the banner Somerset Passenger Solutions. 

“But one of the most important things is that Hinkley Point C appears to have been a catalyst for school improvements and it’s encouraging our young people setting their sights on careers in lots of diverse elements of the build, from HGV driving to engineering.  

“Finally, this post-industrial town is also seeing an incredible uplift in inward investment, where companies are deciding to establish new businesses here, rather than in larger cities, or operate remotely from overseas bases because they can now access very capable supply chains and workforce.  

“Bridgwater and the wider areas are now set up to embrace many more opportunities as the UK transitions to cleaner energy systems over the next few decades, including advanced nuclear technologies such as fusion power. 

“Looking ahead, I truly hope when Hinkley is complete we can maintain momentum and encourage other industries to our town.” 

Sam Orchard is Nuclear Supply Chain Specialist on the Hinkley Supply Chain Team