St Helens welcomed glass manufacturers from across the globe to hear about a ground breaking scheme earmarked for the town.
Representatives from the UK glass industry, global glass manufacturers, the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram, and academics from northern universities joined local business ambassadors in St Helens to hear about the Glass Futures scheme.
The £50 million Glass Futures scheme brings industry and academia together in a consortium including British Glass, Pilkington, NGF, Guardian Glass (USA), the Universities of Liverpool and Leeds, Siemens and Swarovski, with many other major glass manufacturers and universities. The aim of the scheme is to put the UK at the forefront of global glass manufacturing.
In early February, the UK glass industry announced the intention for St Helens to be the primary hub for twin Northern Powerhouse centres of excellence for glass innovation and research. The proposed site in St Helens is the mothballed line at the Pilkington Glass Watson Street works, with the other location being at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire.
The event, held in the symbolic World of Glass building in St Helens, highlighted the innovative use of glass in the future and how bringing together world class experts to carry out research into energy and emissions reduction, glass formulation, new high-tech products, architecture and packaging, can bring real benefits to the regional and UK economy.
The St Helens site would focus on the “hot” side of glass production, with a large experimental glass furnace capable of producing 30 tonnes of product per day for windows, buildings, bottles and fibre glass, with the Leeds site focusing on the “cold” side of glass production with research into coatings, structure and the use of glass in medicine.
The site in St Helens could create around 50 jobs directly, with hundreds of indirect jobs in total.
Eamonn McManus, Chair of the St Helens Economy Board said: “St Helens is a place that encapsulates ‘industry to ingenuity’. We are a borough built on innovation – in glass, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, and we can achieve such transformations again in the future.
“By combining the knowledge we have of the industry, our association with the likes of Pilkington and NGF and our proximity and accessibility to academics within northern universities, we can be part of that innovation and just shows the shift in ambition being achieved.”
Friday's event follows on from a reception at the House of Lords in early February where representatives from the UK glass industry, Glass Futures, Liverpool City Region and St Helens Council, lobbied MPs and ministers to support the scheme, which - if goes to plan - will see work start on the site in St Helens later this year and be operational next year.
Richard Katz, director of Glass Futures, a not for profit company specifically set up by the industry to bring industry, the supply chain and academia together, said: “This event shows that local politicians are behind what is an exciting plan. If our proposals for centres of excellence here in St Helens at Pilkington and over the Pennines in Leeds are successful, it will bring jobs and prosperity, and also a brighter future for the industry.
“We want the glass industry to be sustainable and to be part of the ‘clean growth’ of manufacturing in the UK, by developing new manufacturing methods and substantially reducing carbon output.
“We also want the glass industry to be innovative and to lead the way with new research, looking at new applications for a material that has been around for thousands of years, and will be around for many more to come.”
Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, said: “St Helens has long been synonymous with glass and, like the rest of the Liverpool City Region, has a proud tradition of innovation.
“Glass Futures fits perfectly with the Government’s Industrial Strategy and it makes perfect sense to establish this centre in St Helens, where it can benefit from the proximity of established industry players, as well as the city region’s world-leading excellence in materials science, and support from the North’s foremost universities.
“This is exactly the kind of pioneering initiative that we need to encourage and I pleased that the combined authority is able to support it.”