Board Insight

Appledore: Sailing Towards a Bright Future – Tim Jones

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The mood in Appledore is upbeat

An artist’s impression of the proposed Appledore Maritime Centre – Credit: TDC

It was not that long ago when the shock news hit North Devon that Babcock would be stopping ship building at the Yard and that the whole facility would be put on the market.

The history of ship building in this area goes back to Elizabethan times and before. In its heyday the Yard employed around 600 direct and a similar number of indirect employees and sub-contractors.

It was estimated that the Yard represented around 80% of the Appledore economy. Also, a significant contribution to the whole of the growth opportunities for Northern Devon.

I was appointed as the Chair of a Taskforce to see if a purchaser could be found. I spent many cold and lonely days in the Yard trying to fully understand the scope of this project and how best to approach the market.

In the event, it took nearly 18 months to find a willing purchaser. Prior to this, we had some quite extraordinary negotiations including one with a Polish Marine manufacturer and an opportunity to create an order book by replacing the current shipping fleet for the Faroe Islands.

In the process of these negotiations, there were frequent trips to London and on one occasion a meeting inside Number 10 Downing Street. This demonstrated the awareness of Whitehall about the importance of this facility. It also underlines how important the Yard could be for the future of ship building in the UK.

It is easy to see what happened next as the Yard was taken over by Harland & Wolff. It was clear that this was a unique opportunity to re-establish the full capabilities of Appledore and for it to operate in conjunction with their Belfast Yard.

It was always going to be a slow process to re-establish the order book, however, the new owners have methodically established the backbone of a long-term facility.

I have recently had the pleasure of catching up with the General Manager of the Ship Yard, who has provided me with some updated information as to the current state of business and prospects for the future.

In preparing their new business plan, an important starting point for the new owners was that Appledore should be established as a hub for clean marine innovation.

Just a little over a year ago, Harland & Wolff (Appledore) had 40 dedicated employees. Today, that number has climbed to an impressive 180, with ongoing recruitment efforts to further bolster its workforce. Notably, among these 180 individuals, 30 are apprentices—ready to embark on a journey of skills development and contribution to the shipbuilding and maritime industry.

In September of this year, Harland & Wolff (Appledore) welcomed 19 new apprentices, marking a significant milestone in nurturing local talent. This intake, which builds upon the previous year’s seven apprentices, represents a fourfold increase since the first group of apprentices arrived in Appledore three years ago. These apprentices are now well on their way to choosing their trades, and their dedication promises a bright future.

To deliver the FSS (Fleet Solid Support) contract, Harland & Wolff is in the process of building its workforce even further. The company estimated that it will need to double its workforce to at least 350 core employees by the time that work on the project begins in 2025. Recruitment is underway and there will be more opportunities to join the team shared soon.

One of the most exciting developments in recent times has been the £15.6 million investment received by Torridge District Council to establish the Clean Maritime Innovation Centre at Middle Dock, Appledore. This substantial funding, provided by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, aims to position Torridge and northern Devon as a global leader in research and development for clean maritime technology.

The centre’s proximity to the Harland & Wolff Appledore shipyard offers opportunities for innovation in clean-propulsion shipbuilding and space to test and deploy. As the world looks to move away from diesel-based propulsion, this project is poised to be a catalyst for the repositioning of Appledore as a centre of excellence in clean maritime technology.

In a show of international cooperation and excellence, Harland & Wolff (Appledore) recently hosted a visit from the Lithuanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Eitvydas Bajarūnas, and a delegation of local West Devon dignitaries.

The purpose of their visit was to track the progress of the regeneration of ex HMS Quorn.

Once completed in summer of next year, the M55 Ship will become an integral part of the Lithuanian Navy, further strengthening our ties with NATO allies. This project showcases Appledore’s shipbuilding prowess and its ability to contribute to global maritime security.

With the establishment of the Clean Maritime Innovation Centre, the ongoing M55 project, and plans for FSS project work to begin in Q2 of 2025, Harland & Wolff (Appledore) has solidified a robust pipeline of work. This not only ensures job security for new starters but also harnesses the expertise of the shipyard’s more experienced employees.

The mood in Appledore is upbeat. The expansion of its workforce, the establishment of the Clean Maritime Innovation Centre, and the prestigious ex HMS Quorn project underscore the shipyard’s commitment to excellence and its pivotal role in the future success of the shipbuilding and maritime industries. Appledore is sailing towards a brighter and more sustainable future, and there is much to be excited about.