NW business briefs: Blackburn College; Electricity NW; Manchester University; Street Group; Napthens; LSH Auto

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle training rig

Blackburn College has been chosen to be one of the first in the country to pilot a new hydrogen vehicle qualification with the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) as it continues to lead the region in sustainable vehicle training.

The college, which opened its state-of-the-art Hybrid Electric Automotive Training (HEAT) centre in 2022, is piloting Level 2 and 3 hydrogen vehicle awareness qualifications aimed at those already working in the industry. Both qualifications will ensure that the region’s motor industry is equipped with the skills and resources to work with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) technology, which is anticipated to sit alongside electric as an alternative green choice for drivers as we move towards reducing vehicle emissions.

Level 2 is designed for those who may encounter hydrogen vehicles and require safety awareness, while Level 3 builds on this to provide the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to safely carry out the removal and replacement of components in FCEV systems.

Training will take place on site at the college’s HEAT centre, with use of its fully-interactive Toyota Mirai training rig which was installed with funding from the Department for Education to support the motor industry to get ahead with upskilling, while ensuring that the next generation of its workforce has exposure to cutting edge technologies that will equip them with the level of skills required to service the drivers and fleets of tomorrow.

Advanced Automotive Technical Trainer at Blackburn College, Michael Yerbury, said: “The IMI is predicting there will be 90,000 automotive technicians trained by 2023, increasing to 111,000 by 2032. The Government’s target to ban the production of petrol and diesel cars by 2035 means that we need to be prepared with the skills to manufacture and maintain these new technologies. Training now will only work in your favour.”

Dr Fazal Dad, Principal and Chief Executive of Blackburn College, said: “We’re honoured to be chosen by the IMI to lead the nation’s drive towards zero emission automobiles. There are plentiful opportunities, specialist teaching teams and skilled support staff at the college to help upskill technicians and introduce new learners to the world of automotive.”


Helen Seagrave

Electricity North West, the Stockport-based power network operator, has brought back its popular Powering our Communities for a seventh time with £100,000 up for grabs.

It is looking to support communities to develop their energy projects by providing early stage funding to help get their projects going. That might include developing a local plan, engagement activities, overcoming a specific barrier, feasibility studies or business plan development. Since launching, Electricity North West has awarded groups and organisations across the region £480,000 which has benefited local communities.

Helen Seagrave, Electricity North West’s community energy manager, said: “To bring back Powering our Communities for a seventh year highlights our commitment as a business to supporting community energy. The funding we’ve provided has helped make major differences across the region and each year, we’re seeing stronger applications along with a growing interest in community energy.

“Community energy has a huge role to play in the North West as we all switch to using more clean green electricity for things like transport and heating. Community energy projects range from solar panels to wind power, and all contribute to reaching the North West’s net zero targets.”

Applications for this year’s fund must be submitted by Friday, July 26, and successful applicants will be notified in September. Funding up to £15,000 per project is available as Electricity North West wants to target projects which scale up the delivery of a community or local energy project or group, or projects that address specific barriers that are holding back the development of community or local energy.


The University of Manchester has signed a landmark new deal that will see up to 65% of its electricity demand supplied through a brand new renewables project.

In a major move towards achieving its 2038 zero carbon ambitions, the university has partnered with UK clean energy company, Enviromena, to buy electricity generated from its new solar farm based in Medebridge, Essex. Once complete, Medebridge Solar Farm will comprise 104,000 solar panels across 175 acres of low-grade agricultural land, the equivalent of around 70 football pitches.

The site will also create a significant biodiversity net gain. With enhancements to the existing hedgerows and planting of native grassland and wildflower meadow beneath and around the solar arrays, the site will encourage nesting opportunities for wildlife and improved habitat connectivity.

The contract that secures this investment, known as a Corporate Power Purchase Agreement (cPPA), commits the university to purchase 80% of Medebridge’s total annual generation capacity (58 GWh) for the next decade, reducing university carbon emissions by 12,000 t/co2 every year – enough to power 21,000 homes.

Lee Barlow, Finance & Administration Manager, and Project Lead at The University of Manchester, said: “After nearly three years of rigorous procurement and negotiations, we are proud to announce this landmark agreement, which reinforces our commitment to sustainability whilst delivering best value to our students and stakeholders, in the form of price certainty and supply stability.”


Heather Staff

Manchester-based Street Group, which helps estate agents and buyers sell property more easily and transparently through technology, has been named as the second partner for Tech Returners’ new TR4: 4-Week Returner Launchpad programme that connects progressive businesses with individuals returning to tech after a career break. The news follows last month’s announcement that AJ Bell signed up as the initiative’s inaugural partner.

The four-week PHP programme with Street Group, which starts in June, will consist of four weeks’ carefully tailored mentoring and coaching as well as tailored career and mindset guidance. Street Group’s mission is to elevate how agents and their clients manage the process of moving home.

TR4 is led by James Heggs, co-founder of Tech Returners; and Mili Velikova, career and mindset lead, and is a way for organisations to responsibly secure experienced tech candidates within four weeks who will be ready to seamlessly integrate into their team and make an impact from day one.

Each successful Returner applicant will receive a bursary of £2,000 to help with their living costs. Heather Staff, co-founder at Street Group, said: “Building a culture of innovation, inclusion and belonging is so important to us, and something our team regularly mention as one of the best things about working here. The opportunity to partner with Tech Returners to support returners perfectly aligns with our culture and goals and we can’t wait to get started.”

James Heggs said: “Street Group is one of the leading prop tech firms in the UK. This PHP programme is a fantastic opportunity for two Returners to kick start their career at a forward-thinking and highly innovative business.”


Chris Boyle

Nationwide gym operator Fitness First has appointed employment law, HR and health & safety firm AfterAthena to provide tailored HR support.

AfterAthena, part of the Preston-based Napthens Group, will support the HR team at Fitness First in specialist areas of employment law including HR practices, contract guidance and redundancy procedures.

Based in Wigan, Fitness First was among the pioneers of the UK gym industry in the 1990s and now operates 28 health and wellbeing clubs nationwide, providing classes, equipment, personal trainers and customised workouts for individual and corporate members. Chris Boyle, partner and head of employment with AfterAthena, said: “Fitness First is a prestigious and valued addition to AfterAthena’s growing roster of clients across a wide range of sectors seeking our expert support for their HR operations.”

Vicky Inman, head of HR at Fitness First, said: “AfterAthena’s team has been an invaluable source of support, guiding Fitness First through complex cases and organisational changes with unparalleled expertise and advice. Looking ahead, I anticipate our continued collaboration with AfterAthena.”

Other clients of AfterAthena include Booths, Fresenius Kabi, Thwaites, English Football League and N Brown.


Jacques Snyman and David Knight

A sponsorship deal has been announced between Mercedes-Benz of Whitefield, part of LSH Auto, and Greenmount Cricket Club.

The club has three senior teams and three junior teams (under 11s, 13s and 15s) which play in the JWLees Lancashire League. A fourth senior team plays friendlies, and an under nines junior team also plays in the Greater Manchester Cricket League. As one of the club’s main sponsors, the logos of LSH Auto and its local dealership, Mercedes-Benz of Whitefield, will be displayed on shirts across all teams.

Greenmount CC Chairman, Andrew Skinner, said: “I am chuffed to bits for our club to partner with such a high quality brand like Mercedes-Benz of Whitefield, and see this as another positive step forward in lifting the profile of the club in the local community. Already, as a result of their support, we have upgraded our playing kits for the season ahead. We have also been able to offer free playing shirts to all our junior members.”

South African professional, Jacques Snyman, said: “Greenmount CC is an amazing club and is the nerve centre of the local community. I am so excited to be playing for them again this season. It’s even better to know that we have a quality brand partner in Mercedes-Benz of Whitefield.”

Mark Taylor, Dealer Principal of Mercedes-Benz of Whitefield, said: “At LSH Auto, we’re committed to giving back to the communities that support us. With our local Mercedes-Benz dealership based in Whitefield, we thought this was a great opportunity to provide the club and the local community with our support.”