THE Duke of York saw how the region was leading the country’s renewable energy drive as he opened new facilities in Northumberland yesterday.
Prince Andrew was at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) at Blyth as part of a three-part trip to allow him to see examples of investment in infrastructure and people, both of which are designed to support economic recovery in the UK.
The royal visitor was also at the Bernicia Housing Group’s new headquarters at Ashington, where he ran the rule over its apprenticeship programme, as well as a pharmaceutical company at Morpeth.
The Duke began his visit at Narec, where he unveiled the new offshore wind turbine blade and tidal turbine drive train testing facilities.
The new facilities are the result of a combined investment of £33.6m by the Government and the European Regional Development Fund.
The blade test facility – the biggest of its kind – was completed in August and is ready for commercial operations. The drive train test facility, known as Nautilus, recently completed its first client test.
The Duke also took a tour of a third facility, currently under construction, for the testing of large offshore wind turbines.
The £45m facility will be operational in spring next year, with a first customer commissioning to follow in the summer.
Narec’s corporate affairs manager Steve Abbott said: “It was fantastic recognition that the Duke was able to make the trip up to Narec.
“He showed great interest in the area in which we work, and left knowing a great deal more.”
The Duke then moved on to Bernicia’s new 40,000sqft headquarters at the town’s Ashwood Business Park, where he met nine local young people chosen for the group’s apprenticeship programme.
The group received over 370 applications for roles in business administration, customer services, electrical, plumbing joinery and bricklaying trades.
One of those who made it was John Tuck, 21, from North Seaton, who has completed his apprenticeship and hopes to become a full-time joiner.
He said of his meeting with royalty: “I thought it was very exciting, I was a bit nervous but it all went well. It really was an honour.”
Another to meet the Duke was Joe Gadsby, 20, also from North Seaton, and in the first year of his bricklaying apprenticeship.
He said: “He was really down to earth and seemed really interested in what we had to say, he seemed really interested in apprenticeships.” Prince Andrew also chatted with management, residents and staff and was presented with a carved coal ornament.
He told those gathered: “Thank you very much for the opportunity of coming here. It has been not only about learning what goes on here but how important you are in the local community because of the number of people you employ here and because of the apprenticeship scheme.”
Bernicia group chairman Ian Armstrong said: “He showed a great interest in the business and asked a great many constructive questions. He met many of our staff and apprentices and I think everybody was charmed by his visit.”