For the past two decades Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster (BECBC) has worked to ‘give a voice’ to the Cumbrian supply chain, as well as helping to ‘grow businesses, forge key partnerships and collaborations, inspire the next generation of Cumbrian leaders and develop the local economy’.

BECBC Chief Executive Dianne Richardson says: “At a time when energy is at the heart of so many business conversations and at the heart of our communities, celebrating 20 years of collaboration on just that subject is poignant.

“For me it's so important because still being here 20 years after we first came together is due to the commitment and work of our members, who have devoted many hours of volunteer time to build and evolve the organisation. That means we're an organisation that, while embedded in the business world which can sometimes seem unemotional, people genuinely care about.”

The cluster was formed when six companies involved in the Sellafield supply chain decided it would be useful to get together once a month to find out what was happening in the area and share opportunities to do business together. These included Steve Knight from React Engineering, Glyn Llewellyn from ICON Controls, Sue Hearn from Babtie, which evolved through time and was bought by Jacobs and Andy White from AMEC (which also evolved into Jacobs) and DGP.

In Cumbria:

“One of the most interesting things about BECBC is that we were member-created and have remained completely member-led throughout the 20 years. That's stayed at the heart of who we are through development of everything that we now deliver. We do a lot more than meet once a month now,” says Dianne.

BECBC was set up as an informal organisation in 2003 and incorporated five years later as a not-for-profit company. John Grainger, Executive Director, says: “Over the next few years, we developed our sector groups in nuclear, social value and professional services where members come together in smaller, focussed groups for more specific conversations. Like any organisation, BECBC, known in its formative days as West Cumbria Business Cluster, was reliant on several local businesses, large and small, taking a ground floor opportunity to make a difference on behalf of the local supply chain.

“BECBC does not have a political leaning or focus, nor a controlling hand in terms of the largest employer. So, as a self-determining body, it stood to rise or fall on its programme of activities, input from a largely volunteer cohort, and, most importantly, addressing issues of the day in the world of business. So, when you look at milestones, they are not necessarily achieved by the organisation itself, rather it celebrates the success of its members. The acid test is how the membership numbers have been sustained over that period. There have been external trials and tribulations such as periods of recession within the national economy and of course, Covid. BECBC’s continued success and last year’s growth of 11 per cent are testimony to both the success of the organisation, as well as the loyalty of its members.

“One of the big success stories of BECBC has been the annual awards. As someone who was involved in judging the in-Cumbria awards for many years and lucky enough to have been the first recipient of the Robin Burgess Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cumbria, I have always promoted the idea of celebrating success within our geography, and then within our membership. I have chaired the awards' judging panel for those ten years and whilst selecting the best from the best I have never thought anything other than those who were shortlisted and also those ultimately named as winners clearly merited the recognition and awards they received.

“So, 20 years on we look as resilient as ever, servicing our members’ needs and looking forward to the creation of Cumberland and the opportunity that brings to all of us.”

The organisation is having a birthday party with members and their families on July 11 at Lakes College and they are also asking people to share their memories from BECBC's 20 years on social media using the hashtag #BECBCturns20.  

In Cumbria:

John McGibbon, Managing Director at PAR Systems, says: “BECBC is the central point for collaboration in and around the nuclear industry in Cumbria. With the hope of a nuclear renaissance heading this way, there has never been a more important time to work together and build on the common and complimentary skills we have in the region’s nuclear industry, which we aim to support with the BECBC Nuclear Sector group.

“As a business, PAR Systems has really felt the benefit of the BECBC community in 2021 when we carried out a management buy-out of our UK operations. We were able to source all the financial, legal and business support we needed from BECBC member companies.”

Talking about the future of the organisation, Dianne says: “In common with many companies in the UK the biggest challenge is recruitment and retention. I've never experienced such a tight labour market in my career. Combined with a resurgence in the nuclear sector this is undoubtedly the biggest challenge. We're in the process now of setting our strategy for the next three years, which will define our role in supporting businesses but if Covid taught us one thing it's that we have to remain flexible and responsive, which I believe is one of our strengths.”

The last word goes to BECBC chair Lee Grears. He says: “Growing my own business, Responsive Ltd, I have seen first-hand how the networking BECBC facilitates support business in Cumbria. I am proud to be Chair of the cluster during its 20th anniversary and looking ahead, my ambition will be to see more smaller businesses involved in the business opportunities here in Cumbria. When we strengthen small business, we strengthen the community and we grow innovation.”