SOUTH West College (SWC) today officially opened Ireland’s largest green technology research and development and training facility in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
Staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of sustainability and innovation professionals, the £1.5M Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies (CREST) provides specialist education, training and R&D support to help small and medium-sized firms compete in the multi-billion pound renewable energy and sustainable technologies sector.
The cross-border facility is supported by the EU INTERREG IVA programme managed by the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) with match funding from the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment Northern Ireland; and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland.
The centre was officially opened by renowned UK environmentalist Chris Hines MBE who was formerly the Sustainability Director at the inspirational Eden Project in Cornwall.
CREST was established through a unique collaboration which pools expertise, resources and know-how from four colleges that have led on sustainability training and innovation in the UK and Ireland, namely SWC, Cavan Innovation and Technology Centre, Institute of Technology Sligo and Dumfries & Galloway College in Scotland.
Speaking at the launch Tim Stokes, CREST Programme Manager said the facility would help support job opportunities in the fast-growing renewable energy and sustainable technologies sector and power a new period of growth in the border region.
“The renewable energy and sustainable technologies sector is making an increasingly significant contribution to the region’s economy, benefitting the environment and creating job opportunities.
“CREST is about helping small to medium sized businesses take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the fast-growing global drive towards greater sustainability.
“It provides expertise and a range of facilities to help entrepreneurs and SMEs who might otherwise not have the capacity to do so, to bring innovative sustainable ideas from concept to reality.”
He added: “The bigger picture is that CREST is helping to stimulate innovation and to improve competitiveness of the small business sector in the region.
“This in turn is safeguarding and creating jobs whilst contributing towards better stewardship of our natural environment.
“We’re already off to a promising start and want to hear from more businesses interested in gaining from our support.”
South West College Director, Malachy McAleer, said CREST Centre would build on the successful activities the colleges have already pioneered and opened new capacity for delivering foundation and honour degree programmes directly in the area.
“In this centre we have four colleges that are consistently recognised for their development of sustainable technologies and skills that meet the needs of industry. By pooling the expertise and experience of our colleagues, we believe CREST will prove to be a game-changer for local firms and the talent pool in this region.
“Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster have strong longstanding relationships with South West College and with the opening of CREST, we can begin a new phase of collaboration that will deliver quality higher education directly to the people in this region.
“The time is now right to develop a new range of higher education options which can be used to meet the up-skilling needs of a regional industry base which is in positive transition.”
Welcoming the new facility, Lorraine McCourt, Director with the SEUPB, said: “We are delighted to see that the centre is now fully up and running.
“Its completion will help us to fulfil many of the environmental protection objectives of the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, which was designed to encourage greater levels of cross-border collaboration on key issues such as environmental sustainability.
“I look forward to hearing more about its successes over the coming months and years.”
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster said: “This centre is very good news for small and medium sized business across Fermanagh operating in the renewable energy and sustainable technologies sector.
“The support being offered will provide businesses with the tools and expertise required to stimulate business growth and in turn help to boost our economic competitiveness.
“Northern Ireland’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy and I am pleased that my Department has been able to support this initiative.”
The CREST Centre’s dedicated R&D spaces and specialist equipment, including the flagship CREST Passive Pavilion building which meets the rigorous Passive House standard and Europe’s first robot-managed solar array, ranks it highly among the UK and Ireland’s top ‘clean and green’ training facilities.
The facilities are available to businesses or individuals within Northern Ireland, the border counties of Ireland and Western Scotland who have ideas for new products or process developments but who do not have the physical and/or technical capacity to develop, test and commercialise them
Through the CREST project, partners have already worked with more than 120 small and medium-sized businesses.
The opening of the flagship facilities in Enniskillen means that enhanced services are now available to SMEs including R&D, and demonstration and testing facilities for cutting edge technologies, laboratory space and company booths. .
To find out more about the CREST Centre and the array of innovation and R&D services available visitthecrestproject.com or call 028 6634 2301.